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Wednesday 7 June 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# legalisation
Medicinal cannabis: Harris says 'it's not the job of the Minister for Health to be a doctor'
Health Minister Simon Harris said the compassionate access programme for medicinal cannabis will be available later this year. / YouTube

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has defended his stance that it is not the Minister for Health’s role to determine what medicines should be permitted for use in Ireland.

His words come as the family of Ava Twomey, a young girl who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, has said they must now be separated so that Ava can access medicinal cannabis which is unavailable in Ireland.

Vera Twomey has been leading an ongoing campaign to allow her daughter Ava to receive such products in Ireland to help with her condition. Ava (7) suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, and can suffer from several seizures a day.

The minister has held multiple meetings with Vera Twomey in relation to her case, but has argued that the only way that Ava would be able to access medicinal cannabis would be if her consultant applied for dispensation.

Moving to the Netherlands 

The family moved to the Netherlands in June so that Ava could be treated with medicinal cannabis oil, but with the school year starting again for Ava’s siblings, Vera has returned to Cork, while her husband, Paul, remained behind.

Harris explained to reporters yesterday that only a consultant doctor can sign off on prescriptions for medicinal cannabis, adding that he has no role or power to intervene.

“I know there are very difficult cases out there and I know on a human level our heart will go out to anybody in such a difficult case, but I am not a doctor. It is not the job of the Minister for Health to be a doctor, but it is the job of all of us, as I would respectfully suggest, to seek the views of medical professionals and medical experts.

“If a medical clinician in this country, if a consultant in this country, believes that any person, child or adult, requires a substance that is not legal medicine they can seek a licence from my department. As of now, I have no licences pending in my department,” he said.

The minister said he fully accepted the Health Products Regulatory Authority’s (HPRA) report published earlier this year, which said that in certain circumstances, medicinal cannabis should be prescribed to patients.

I have accepted their recommendations in full, which is that they believe medicinal cannabis should be available, subject to a consultant believing it should be available in a certain number of cases, in relation to three specific conditions: certain types of epilepsy, MS and people who are violently ill as a result of certain types of chemotherapy.
I have set up a clinical expert group because this programme has to be administered by clinicians and they are due to report shortly, and I expect we will be able to move ahead with the compassionate access programme later this year.

The HPRA report states that medicinal cannabis could be of benefit to some patients.

“In those cases, of course, I want to see it made available to patients; however, compassionate access programme or no compassionate access programme, it will only ever be made available when a consultant believes it because I am not playing doctor here. I am not making decisions about what medicine, authorised or otherwise, should be put into the body of any Irish citizen. That is a decision for a doctor.

Referring to his comments in relation to the HPV vaccine this week, Harris said he takes advice on issues such as these from medical professionals.

And if a medical professional in this country believes that any citizen requires any such product, they know how to apply through the licensing system. I have no such application.

Read Family of Ava Twomey separated as she remains in Netherlands for medicinal cannabis treatment>

Read: Vera Twomey stopped at Dublin Airport attempting to bring medicinal cannabis into the country>

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