Ministers announce expert panel to advise on medicinal cannabis requests
The Government will pull together an expert panel of clinicians to advise ministers on whether medicinal cannabis can be prescribed, it was announced today.
The “permanent structure” will be convened to speed up the decision-making process when key cases such as that of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell arise.
Cannabis oil - used to treat Billy for his acute epilepsy since 2016 - was confiscated from his mother Charlotte at Heathrow airport earlier this month.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid eventually allowed a 20-day supply to be released back to Charlotte, after she launched a determined battle against the Government.
Theresa May today said the drug tetrahydrocannabinol could be legalised for those who need it - but in the meantime a panel of experts will assess individual cases.
In the Commons, Home Office Minister Nick Hurd said the cases of Billy and Alfie Dingley - a six-year-old facing the same struggle - had "highlighted the need for the Government to explore the issue further”.
He said they were also a signal to the Government to reassess its “handling” of such cases.
Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies has already been asked to start work on the panel, Mr Hurd revealed.
In a speech in London today, Mrs May said: "It is possible for medicinal cannabis to be used.
“What we need to ensure is that we're listening to clinicians, we're listening to people as we do that.
"Do we need to look at these cases and consider what we've got in place? Yes.”
She added: “But I think what is to drive us in all of these cases is actually what clinicians are saying about these issues.
"We already have an ability for licenses to be granted in relation to medicinal cannabis.”
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said the expert panel announced by the Government would be "not fit for purpose".
She said a Labour government would legalise the prescription of cannabis oil for medical purposes and mount a review into public health related drugs policy.
Her announcement is something of a U-turn since March, when she rejected calls to back altering the laws on cannabis, including for medical purposes.
Earlier today there was some confusion over whether the Government had ordered a review into the current law - after Downing Street appeared to contradict a claim by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt that it had.
Reports also emerged that Mrs May had rebuffed attempts by Mr Javid to discuss the issue at an emergency Cabinet convened this morning.
But a Downing Street spokesman said this afternoon: “There have been conversations going on across government today between the relevant departments with a view to making this announcement.”
The spokesman added: “The conversations pre-dated Cabinet this morning.”