Cannabis medicines to be prescribed by NI doctors for first time

Billy Caldwell with his mother Charlotte.
Billy Caldwell with his mother Charlotte.

Doctors in Northern Ireland will now be able to prescribe cannabis-based medicines from next month, it has been confirmed.

The Department of Health has announced it will be taking measures to enable patients for the first time here to be prescribed cannabis-based medicinal products without a licence.

This mirrors similar changes which will occur in England, Wales and Scotland and will come into force on November 1, 2018.

The amendments implement recent expert advice from the Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

It comes following a high profile battle for changes to the law to allow for cannabis-based medicine to be prescribed for patients.
This was spearheaded by Castlederg mother Charlotte Caldwell, whose son Billy suffers from severe epilepsy, and other families whose loved ones’ conditions improved markedly after being administered cannabis-based medicines.

A spokesperson for the DoH said: “The Department has worked alongside the Home Office, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to develop additional frameworks and clinical guidelines to ensure that cannabis-based medicinal products can be prescribed safely and effectively to patients while at the same time ensuring they are not misused.

“The rescheduling of cannabis-based medicinal products does not pave the way towards legalising cannabis for recreational use. The penalties for unauthorised supply and possession will remain unchanged.

“The change will however, remove the requirement for licensing should a doctor on the General Medical Council’s specialist register decide to prescribe cannabis-based medicinal products where their use is deemed clinically appropriate and in the best interests of patients.

“The ACMD will be conducting a long-term review of cannabis, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has been commissioned to provide additional advice to clinicians.

“The Department will work closely with other agencies to monitor the impact of the policy as the evidence-base develops and review when the ACMD provides its final advice.”