Billy Caldwell to return home uncertain over cannabis licence

Co Tyrone boy who suffers from rare form of epilepsy has been given a short-term licence

Billy Caldwell and his mother Charlotte. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Wire

A 12-year-old boy from Co Tyrone who has been granted a licence for the use of medicinal cannabis will fly home amid uncertainty over access to his medication.

Billy Caldwell and his mother Charlotte are expected to fly into Belfast City Airport on Thursday evening.

A family spokesman said they remain uncertain over when Billy will be able to get his next dose. They have been in London where Billy has been receiving treatment.

The British home office gave Billy, who has a rare form of epilepsy, a short-term licence to allow him access to cannabis oil, which Charlotte says helps to control his seizures.


Uncertainty over the medication in Northern Ireland had placed a question mark over his return.

Medicinal cannabis

In 2017, Billy became the first person in the UK to be prescribed medicinal cannabis. Currently, UK law does not permit cannabis for medicinal use, although the cannabis-based Savitex, which contains both CBD and the principal psychoactive component of cannabis THC, is used to treat MS. The British government has said that they will make a decision on medicinal cannabis within weeks.

In the Republic, restricted use is also applied. The HSE and most doctors believe evidence of its benefits is not sufficient to warrant prescribing in a medical context.

On Wednesday, the family claimed the British home office decision needed to be ratified by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland before they could book flights home to Co Tyrone.

On Thursday morning, the family said they have booked flights but remain concerned over when Billy’s next dose will be released.

The Department of Health said on Wednesday that it was “actively working for a timely resolution to this matter”.

Awaiting confirmation

A family spokesman said they are still awaiting confirmation from the department that Billy’s medication will be available when they land in Northern Ireland.

“While the [British] home office in London and Charlotte’s MP Órfhlaith Begley have done an amazing job in getting us this far, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland have not confirmed that Billy’s medication will be available, whether for administration at a Belfast hospital, or to be taken home and administered in precisely the way he had previously been given his meds for 19 months before the prescription ban,” he said.

“While we have been advised that the captain of our flight will be given secure custody of the original larger quantity of Bill’s medicinal cannabis confiscated at Heathrow on June 11, we are also advised that the meds will be handed directly to the Department of Health in Belfast.

“We have also been told that the final four days’ supply of Billy’s meds, released under special licence by the [British] home office on June 16, will not be released from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

“This is a cause of concern, because after the administration of his Thursday morning dose of medicinal cannabis we do not know when the next dose will be released.”

The department has been asked for a response. – Press Association