Update on progress re Cannabis for medical reasons
I would like to update all those who have an interest on progress in relation to my and my Department’s efforts with the assistance of the HPRA (Health Products Regulatory Association) on advancing access for patients to cannabis for medical reasons, based on the best scientific advice.
While I do not generally comment on individual cases, I would like to state that I and my Department are doing everything in our power to assist Ms Vera Twomey. I completely understand Vera’s great concern for her daughter, Ava, I have met Vera on four occasions and my Department has been in ongoing contact with her to inform her of the options open to her personally as well as keeping her informed of general developments. I met with Vera last Thursday along with the Chief Medical Officer, senior officials from my Department and from the HPRA, when we provided an update on her own situation and our efforts to address the issue of placing medicinal cannabis on an appropriate regulatory and clinical service basis for the first time in the history of the state. Most recently, I emailed Vera last night and my office was in touch with her to let her know of this contact.
On the 3rd of November, I initiated Ireland’s first ever policy review on the use of cannabis for medical reasons when I asked the HPRA to provide expert advice on the matter. On the 1st of December, Deputy Gino Kenny’s Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016 was debated by the Dail. Despite having some concerns about elements of the Bill, I did not oppose the Bill continuing in the legislative process because my own policy intention was clear from the initiation of the HPRA review and in recognition of the shared aim of many Oireachtas members to see progress for patients who believe cannabis may be a treatment for their conditions. I undertook to provide the HPRA report to the Oireachtas Health Committee to assist in its deliberations and I have done so. Deputy Gino Kenny’s Bill is proceeding to the next stage which is pre-legislative scrutiny at the Committee. I understand a date of 5th of April has been set for Deputy Gino Kenny to attend the Committee and the 13th April has been set for Department of Health officials and the HPRA to attend. I have written to the Committee yesterday asking if this matter could be considered as a priority.
On foot of the publication of the HPRA report on the 10th of February and, based on its recommendations, I subsequently announced my intention to establish an access programme for cannabis based treatments for the conditions recommended by the HPRA, This includes:
- Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications.
- Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis resistant to all standard therapies and interventions;
- Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, despite the use of standard anti-emetic regimes;
My Department is now progressing the establishment of this access programme as a priority. However, it is important to understand that patients accessing cannabis through this programme will need to be recommended for it by their medical consultant.
It is within my power to grant a licence for access to cannabis for a named patient once the application is supported by relevant clinicians involved in the patient’s care. One such application has been granted. A second application was received by the Department on the 31st January, however, this application was not supported by any consultant caring for the patient but the application process remains open and I have asked my officials to treat any and all applications with the utmost priority.
As Minister for Health, I cannot grant a licence to an application that is not supported by relevant clinicians treating named patients.