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Billy's battle prompts law review move

Thursday, 21 June 2018

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THE ongoing battle to secure long-term treatment for 12-year-old Castlederg boy, Billy Caldwell, and his fight with severe epilspsy is gaining new momentum. The government has announced that it is creating an expert panel to look into individual cases.
The medicinal cannabis oil, which is said to relieve Billy's seizures contains a substance called Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is illegal in the UK but available elsewhere. Currently, cannabis is a Class B drug, with penalties for possession of up to five years in prison.
The past number of days have proved dramatic and momentous for Billy and his mother, Charlotte.
Last week officials at Heathrow Airport confiscated Billy's cannabis oil, which his mother had been attempting to bring into the UK from Canada. On Friday, Billy was rushed to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital having suffered multiple seizures.
Returned
The Home Office returned some of the medicine after protests from Ms Caldwell, and assurances from the medical team treating Billy that the treatment was necessary.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid granted a 20-day emergency licence and the oil was returned to his mother and Billy was discharged from hospital early on Monday afternoon.
There was confusion after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested that Mr Javid had already launched a review.
Mr Hunt told BBC Radio 4's 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 we all know that we need to find a different way."
Asked whether the parents of children like Billy would still be facing similar problems in months' or weeks' time, Mr Hunt replied: "I sincerely hope not."
Ms Caldwell has called for an urgent review of the law on the substance, which is banned in the UK despite being available in many other countries.
Speaking outside hospital, she said: "I will ask them to urgently implement a programme that provides immediate access to the meds Billy so urgently needs and now more so than ever the many other children affected by this historic development.
"I will also ask them to implement a review of how the Government, our Government, our UK Government, can make cannabis-based medication available to all patients who urgently require it in our country."
Panicked
She claimed the Government was panicked into action by her son's admission to hospital, having previously suggested she should make the application to have his medication released herself.
"The fact that Billy has been discharged is testimony to the effectiveness of the treatment and underlines how vital it is that every child and every single family affected in our country should have immediate access to the very same medication," said Ms Caldwell.
Shadow British Home Secretary Diane Abbott said the Labour party supported the legal prescription of cannabis oil for medical purposes, saying: "Children have been put at risk and experienced extraordinary suffering because this Government drags its heels and refuses to grant cannabis oil licences."
However Theresa May said that the government would only be looking into the operation of the current system of licences for use in individual cases, rather than changing the law more widely.
"Do we need to look at these cases and consider what we've got in place? Yes," said the Prime Minister.
"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."

Billy's rights
West Tyrone Sinn Fein MP Órfhlaith Begley said she would continue to battle for Billy's rights.
"I have been working with Billy's mother Charlotte for several weeks to try and find a solution so we are all delighted and relieved with the confirmation from the Home Office that they have finally relented and agreed to allow Billy to have his medication after accepting the recommendation of medical professionals that cannabis oil was appropriate in his case.
"This is a life-saving intervention for Billy and he can now concentrate on his recovery. I will continue to engage with the Home Office and the health authorities to ensure he can access his medication in the longer term so there is no repeat of the trauma he has suffered over recent weeks," said the Sinn Féin representative.
West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan says that he was delighted the decision had been overturned.
"A number of politicians, medical professionals and members of the public fully supported Billy Caldwell and in giving him access to cannabis oil, which helps to reduce the number of seizures he has. This collective strong voice has played a key role in the Home Office overturning their decision. The Home Office were on the wrong side of public opinion on this issue."
He added: "The Home Office were completely wrong to confiscate Billy's cannabis oil. This issue could have been completely prevented to begin with and never needed to happen."
Mr McCrossan promised that the SDLP would continue to lobby for reform of laws relating to the use of cannabis oil as a medical treatment.
"No person or child should be allowed to suffer needlessly when there's a clinical need for treatment," he said.
'Decisive change'
Yesterday (Tuesday) former Conservative leader, Lord Hague, called for a "decisive change" in the law on cannabis - suggesting that the Tories should consider legalising recreational use of the drug.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said "any war" has been "irreversibly lost".
Lord Hague went further than senior Tories who have suggested a law change after a boy with epilepsy was given a special licence to use cannabis oil.
Lord Hague said the episode "provides one of those illuminating moments when a longstanding policy is revealed to be inappropriate, ineffective and utterly out of date".
By returning the medicine, the Home Office had "implicitly conceded that the law has become indefensible", he said.
Lord Hague said licensing cannabis for medical use would be a "step forward", but also said the Conservatives should be as "bold", as Canada where state-regulated recreational consumption was being considered.
Pragmatists
In a message to his party colleagues, he said: "We are pragmatists, who change with society and revise our opinions when the facts change. On this issue, the facts have changed very seriously and clearly."
"As far as marijuana, or cannabis, is concerned, any war has been comprehensively and irreversibly lost," he said.
It was "nothing short of "deluded" to think the drug could be driven off the streets, and he compared ordering the police to crack down on its use with "asking the army to recover the Empire. This battle is effectively over".
He said the fact that cannabis was both illegal and widely available effectively permitted "the worst of all worlds" to arise: encouraging more potent and dangerous variants of the drug, with users reluctant to seek help.
"The overall result is the rise of a multi-billion pound black market for an unregulated and increasingly potent product, creating more addiction and mental health problems, but without any enforceable policy to do something about it".
He added: "The only beneficiaries are organised crime gangs. It is absolutely unacceptable to allow this situation to continue."

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