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Mother of epileptic 15-year-old urges government to provide medical cannabis on NHS

Charlotte Caldwell pleads with health secretary Matt Hancock to ‘intervene and stop this torturous ordeal’

Adam Forrest
Monday 07 September 2020 16:58 BST
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Charlotte Caldwell with her son Billy
Charlotte Caldwell with her son Billy

The mother of a 15-year-old boy who can suffer from hundreds of seizures a day has called on the health secretary Matt Hancock to intervene and allow him a prescription for medical cannabis on the NHS.

Charlotte Caldwell’s son Billy has severe epilepsy and has been accessing specialist cannabis oil from a private doctor through a temporary arrangement which runs out on Monday.

A high-profile campaign by Ms Caldwell saw UK rules relaxed in November 2018 to allow some cannabis-derived medicines to be prescribed by specialist doctors in limited circumstances.

A Canadian company had agreed to provide the product to the family free of charge, but the arrangement has now come to an end – prompting Ms Caldwell to call on the government to make it available for Billy and others with his condition through the NHS.

Ms Caldwell, from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, said: “I can’t express enough to Matt Hancock and to the health minister in Northern Ireland, Robin Swann – please, please intervene and stop this torturous ordeal for Billy.”

The case first attracted attention in July 2018 when cannabis oil containing Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) brought back by the Caldwell family from Canada was seized at London’s Heathrow airport  

Billy was then admitted to hospital after suffering for intensified seizures – before the cannabis oil was returned.

Ms Caldwell said her son’s condition has significantly eased thanks to the medicinal substance. “Billy is doing incredibly well – he’s vibrant and happy. He’s healthy and well,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live’s The Emma Barnett Show.

Last month her son’s case was referred to the Refractory Epilepsy Specialist Clinical Advisory Service (Recas) – and the panel recommended his cannabis-based treatment should continue.

Charlotte Caldwell and her son Billy at Heathrow Airport in 2018 after having a supply of cannabis oil confiscated

Ms Caldwell has now withdrawn judicial review proceedings against Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Board over an alleged failure to make a decision on the medication.

Monye Anyadike-Danes QC said: “My client thinks this matter can best be pursued through the Recas panel.”

Ms Caldwell now wants the health authorities to allow a GP to lawfully write prescriptions for medical cannabis, and has written to Mr Hancock to point out the Recas panel’s recommendation.

“They have come to conclusion there is no legal or clinical reason barriers to medical cannabis access for Billy,” she said.

Ms Caldwell told the BBC she did not want other families to go through such an arduous legal fight.

“We have the last 18 months been through what I can only describe as a very torturous ordeal,” she told the BBC. “Billy is one of the most vulnerable in our society, and he has been left high and dry by the powers that be.”

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