The Health Secretary has told ITV News that he backs the use of medicinal cannabis oil and that the Government is conducting a review into its use.
Jeremy Hunt’s announcement comes amid calls for the drug to be legalised in medicinal circumstances.
Last Monday, cannabis oil was confiscated from Charlotte Caldwell who was bringing it to the UK from Canada to treat her severely epileptic son, Billy, who can have up to 100 seizures per day.
On Sunday, Home Secretary Sajid Javid intervened to provide a 20-day licence allowing 12-year-old Billy to be treated with cannabis oil for his epilepsy, after he was rushed to hospital on Friday in a critical condition.
Ms Caldwell credits the oil with keeping Billy’s seizures at bay, saying he was seizure-free for more than 300 days while using it, but it contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is restricted in the UK.
Mr Javid’s emergency measure allowed for one to be returned and Ms Caldwell reported an improvement in her son’s condition after taking the drug, but when this runs out a new application will have to be made for a licence.
Speaking on Monday, Mr Hunt said: “We know that there is strong clinical evidence that in certain situations, cannabis oil can be very beneficial and so I don’t think anyone who followed that story [Billy Caldwell] can have felt anything other than a massive amount of sympathy for the family.
“I think as a Government minister it’s very clear to me that we’re not getting that right and that’s why we’re having that review.”
He continued that the Government was seeking to conduct the review “as quickly as possible” and was aware of the “urgency”, but could not give a time frame since clinical and legal tests need to be carried out.
ITV News also questioned the Prime Minister on the use of medicinal cannabis oil, and although Theresa May did not back it as explicitly as Mr Hunt, she said it was “possible for medicinal cannabis to be used” in the future, but such a decision would only be made based on “what clinicians are saying”.
She continued that individual cases – such as Billy’s – need to be looked at and the way they are handled should be reviewed
Speaking earlier on Monday, Mr Hunt said that the Caldwell’s case had highlighted the fact that the Government is currently not “getting the law on this kind of thing right”.
Billy was discharged from hospital in London early on Monday afternoon, but his mother is now pressing for an urgent review of the law.
Speaking outside the hospital, Ms Caldwell said: “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.
“I am now calling for an urgent meeting with the Health Secretary and the Home Secretary – I will share with them my experience, which no matter what anyone says, cannot possibly be imagined by anyone else.”
She continued that she was “confident” the matter could be drawn to a close within a week, saying there were “hundreds of children” across the UK suffering in a similar situation.
Speaking about the seizures her son suffers, Ms Caldwell said they “break his little body and they break his little mind”, but since being on cannabis oil they had been able to control them better.
She continued that she was “absolutely delighted that Jeremy Hunt has come out and made a statement basically that he’s going to review this and we’re full of hope that he’s going to make this happen.
“For the Health Secretary to come out and support this is absolutely amazing.”
After Mr Javid allowed Billy to use begin using cannabis oil again, Ms Caldwell said it had allowed her son to eat again, but prior to this the 50-year-old said his seizures had escalated and been “absolutely horrendous”.
“I would never, ever want any family to endure what our family – and, more importantly, Billy – has endured,” she said
“Every seizure is horrific for a mummy to watch, because I am very aware that one seizure can kill him.”
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Home Office minister Nick Hurd said that the cases of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley – a six-year-old boy with a rare form of epilepsy which causes him to suffer up to 30 seizures each day – had “highlighted the need for the Government to explore the issue further and our handling of these issues further”.
He announced the establishment of an expert clinicians’ panel to advise ministers on any individual applications to prescribe cannabis-based medications.
Mr Hurd said he had asked chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies to take forward work on the panel.
Speaking on Monday, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Labour supports the legal prescription of cannabis oil for medical purposes.
Ms Abbott said: “A number of recent heartbreaking cases have highlighted a failure of Government policy.
“Children have been put at risk and experienced extraordinary suffering because this Government drags its heels and refuses to grant cannabis oil licences.
“This must not continue… The Government should stop being so heavy-handed and bureaucratic and put the welfare of children first.”