Jeremy Hunt shows support for changing law over medical cannabis oil use

Pressure has been mounting on the government following the case of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who needs the medication to treat his epilepsy

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 18 June 2018 13:55 BST
Charlotte Caldwell and her son Billy, who uses medical cannabis oil to treat his epilepsy
Charlotte Caldwell and her son Billy, who uses medical cannabis oil to treat his epilepsy (Getty)

Jeremy Hunt has signalled his support for overturning legal restrictions on the use of medical cannabis oil, saying no one believes the law is working properly.

The health secretary said he hoped that a Home Office review could be completed within months into medical use of the oil, which is illegal in Britain but available elsewhere.

However the department was unable to immediately confirm whether a review was taking place, and Theresa May's official spokesman tried to distance the prime minister from the idea.

It comes after Sajid Javid, the home secretary, bowed to intense public and political pressure to allow 12-year-old Billy Caldwell to receive cannabis oil to treat his epilepsy.

Billy began using the banned substance to control his seizures in 2016, but his mother Charlotte Caldwell was stopped at Heathrow Airport last Monday when she tried to bring the latest batch of his medication back from Canada.

Mr Javid intervened at the weekend to grant a 20-day license for the treatment, after Billy was admitted to hospital in London, and is now reviewing the law around medical marijuana use.

The health secretary told the Today programme: "I don't think anyone who followed that story could sensibly say that we are getting the law on this kind of thing right.

"I think everyone feels for the lady concerned, and of course there are many, many other people in that situation."

Challenged over whether the legal situation could remain unchanged for weeks or months, he replied: "I sincerely hope not."

"We have to do something, we have to do it quickly... I think it is unfair to say Sajid didn't act quickly in the situation. He has released that oil for that child.

"We are going to go through this process as quickly as we possibly can, because, like everyone, we think these stories are totally heartbreaking.

"The Home Office are not dragging their feet on this. The home secretary has said he will review this issue."

Mr Hunt added: "It does take time, because we've got to not only look at the law, we've got to look at the clinical evidence and make sure there are no unintended consequences.

"But I think we all know that we need to find a different way."

However, when asked about the issue after a speech on NHS funding, Ms May said: "Do we need to look at these cases and consider what we've got in place? Yes.

"But what needs to drive us in all these cases has to be what clinicians are saying about these issues.

"There's a very good reason why we've got a set of rules around cannabis and other drugs, because of the impact that they have on people's lives, and we must never forget that."

Ms Caldwell, from Castlederg in Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland, has offered to meet both Mr Javid and Mr Hunt to discuss the medical needs of her son and others with similar problems.

She credits the oil with keeping Billy's seizures at bay, saying he was seizure-free for more than 300 days while using it.

Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, whose party has campaigned to liberalise drug laws, said the government was unable to separate the issue from "wider prejudice" against drug use.

The former Liberal Democrat leader said: "It is pathetic - and I saw it for myself in government - this bone-headed triumph of prejudice over evidence.

"The active substance in these cannabis-derived medicines is less harmful than stuff you can get across the counter from a chemist.

"When I was in government, I certainly couldn't get Theresa May and the Home Office and indeed other parts of the government to just address the evidence.

"That poor mother is finding herself in this heartbreaking situation because politicians can't separate off the issue of medicinal cannabis to help her child from their wider prejudice about drugs generally."

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