Belfast Telegraph

Panel assessing medicinal cannabis claims not fit for purpose: professor

By Jemma Crew

A new panel assessing claims for medicinal cannabis use, set up amid an outcry over the case of severely epileptic boy Billy Caldwell, is "not fit for purpose", a professor believes.

Mike Barnes, honorary professor of neurological rehabilitation at the University of Newcastle, said the conditions announced by the panel were likely to add barriers for those seeking treatment, and should be reviewed urgently.

The temporary expert panel began accepting applications for licences for the drug from senior clinicians on Wednesday.

It follows public uproar over the confiscation of cannabis oil from Co Tyrone mother Charlotte Caldwell as she attempted to bring it into the UK for her 12-year-old son.

The boy was later granted a limited licence for the drug to be administered in hospital for 20 days.

The Home Office announced the panel will make "swift" recommendations to ministers, who will then sign off on applications within two to four weeks.

If given approval, doctors can then start writing prescriptions for their patients, while ministers decide whether to remove cannabis's banned status as a medicine.

Doctors will have to show there is an "exceptional clinical need" and no other medicine would be suitable for their patient in order to convince the panel.

Professor Barnes said: "Last week the announcement of this panel offered hope to thousands of patients and parents across the UK for whom medical cannabis might offer a real and lasting solution to their pain and suffering.

"However, the terms announced by the panel are likely to place more barriers to families who need to access medical cannabis than to speed up the process.

"Among these is the requirement that patients must have exhausted all other products before receiving access to medical cannabis, which could delay receiving the medication that works for many months.

"There is also a requirement that if the medicine has not been tried (by travelling abroad) then it must have been through a clinical trial - which being illegal, most cannabis medicines have not.

"This approach is simply not fit for purpose. It needs to be looked at again with urgency to ensure that all patients can receive the medication that they need."

Prof Barnes has been working with the family of six-year-old Alfie Dingley, who was granted a licence for medicinal use last week.

His views were echoed by Sir Mike Penning, chairman of the cross-party parliamentary group on medical cannabis under prescription, who said families were finding the forms and process "daunting in the extreme".

The Conservative MP said the panel was "well intentioned but badly flawed", warning against the process being a "compassion-free zone".

The MP added that "the implication that any prescribing clinician will be taking on personal liabilities" would deter many doctors from agreeing.

Peter Carroll, campaign director of End Our Pain, the largest campaign fighting for access to medical cannabis under prescription, said people should be helped with compassion and minimal bureaucracy.

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