Government not dragging feet on medical cannabis, Minister insists

Doctor ‘ashamed’ to hear stories of parents being forced to bring kids abroad to access products

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny (centre) held a meeting with  parents of children who need access to medicinal cannabis on Wednesday including Vera Twomey (left) and  Callie Blackwell. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny (centre) held a meeting with parents of children who need access to medicinal cannabis on Wednesday including Vera Twomey (left) and Callie Blackwell. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

 

The Government has denied claims that the Department of Health is “foot dragging” over legislation to provide medicinal cannabis to people dealing with chronic pain and serious illness.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed insisted that all requests for access to such products had been granted when applications were supported by a hospital consultant.

Mr Creed, who was taking leaders’ questions in the Dáil, was responding to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who said people were suffering needlessly as a result of delays.

The Dáil two years ago passed legislation from People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, the Medicinal Use Regulation Bill, on to the scrutiny stage, but it has since stalled. The Government promised an official review to ensure better supervised access to cannabis on the basis of a medical requirement.

Mr Martin said people were still being forced to regularly travel to abroad to access the product. He said the Government should allow a compassionate access scheme. A well respected company that supplied medical cannabis across the EU could provide it in Ireland from next year, he said.

“The absence of such a compassionate access scheme represents the absence of compassion,” Mr Martin said.

Well-informed

However, Mr Creed insisted there was “no foot-dragging” by the department and that the Government was working towards an appropriate, well-informed and correctly medically supervised scheme.

He said research was continuing and the department was looking at how countries like Denmark dealt with the issue.

The exchange took place as Vera Twomey, mother of eight-year-old Ava Barry, who has a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, called for greater access to medicinal cannabis.

Speaking at a meeting in Dublin organised by Mr Kenny, Ms Twomey said she was forced to travel from her home in Co Cork to the Netherlands every three months to access the medication as there there would be “catastrophic consequences” for Ava’s health without it.

Ms Twomey secured a licence so Ava could receive cannabidiol (CBD) oil and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil but said the Minister for Health needed to introduce legislative change so the medication can be accessed locally.

“We have to reapply for our licence for medical cannabis every three months,” she said. “This is very distressing and disturbing to the whole family environment to be leaving every 12 weeks.”

‘Ashamed’

Addiction specialist Dr Garrett McGovern told the meeting he was “ actually ashamed to be a doctor” after hearing Ms Twomey’s story.

“It’s a human rights issue and it’s an absolute disgrace,” he said. “In Ireland we have a history of exporting problems out...It’s bad enough to be going through this but actually to have to fight in this way to be denied medication that is immeasurably changing the lives of your family and your children is disgraceful.”

Mr Kenny said the “unnecessary hold up” was preventing children and others who could benefit from access to medicinal cannabis from obtaining it.

“What is needed is for the medicinal cannabis Bill to be allowed progress to the committee stage where it can be scrutinised and if necessary amended.” (additional reporting - PA)