Boy who prompted law change on medicinal cannabis receives NHS prescription two years on

Tony Diver
·3-min read
Billy Caldwell, 15, and his new care agreement - Charlotte Caldwell
Billy Caldwell, 15, and his new care agreement - Charlotte Caldwell

The boy who inspired the legalisation of medicinal cannabis has finally been prescribed it on the NHS, and will receive his first bottle on the two-year anniversary of the law change.

Billy Caldwell, 15, became the figurehead of a national campaign to legalise the prescription of cannabis oil in 2018 after his medicine was confiscated at Heathrow Airport by the Home Office on return from a visit to Canada.

His mother’s campaign to have the oil returned eventually led to cannabis-derived medicine being legalised across the UK and made available for prescription.

After two years of battling with NHS authorities to secure the oil on a state-funded prescription, including a legal battle in the Northern Irish High Court, Billy has secured a “clinical care pathway” overseen by several doctors including Professor Helen Cross at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

It means his cannabis oil, which is bought privately, will now be paid for by the NHS.

Ms Caldwell told the Telegraph: “Last week I received the news I have been waiting for this past two years.

“Billy’s GP called to inform me that a shared care plan had been drawn up and could I attend surgery to sign?

“This care plan is one that will allow him to receive his prescribed cannabis based medicine on the NHS. 

“You can’t imagine how relieved I am to have received this confirmation after all these years of campaigning. 

“I am incredibly grateful to the health authorities in Northern Ireland who have worked with Billy’s treating clinician and prescriber, his GP and the paediatric neurology team at Great Ormond Street Hospital to develop and approve this plan.”

Ms Caldwell thanked Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, for approving a new centralised system for recommending cannabis products for children with intractable epilepsy.

Billy’s prescription is thought to be the first of its kind that contains THC - the active ingredient in recreational cannabis that makes users “high”.

Other children with epilepsy have received prescriptions for cannabis oil that only contains CBD, another cannabis compound which is not illegal in the UK.

The prescription suggests it could be possible to secure NHS funding for other children who currently receive THC oil on expensive prescriptions from private clinics.

Ms Caldwell added: “Today I am also thinking of all the people in the UK and Ireland who are still be denied access to medicinal cannabis and will commit myself to do all I can to promote access and more clinical research to enable more to benefit from the medicine that has saved Billy’s life”

The reluctance to prescribe medicinal cannabis stems from a lack of grade-A evidence of its effectiveness, while its detractors suggest it could have negative developmental impacts on children.

The NHS supports a full clinical trial of THC oil in an attempt to gather more evidence, and has not ruled out manufacturing medicinal cannabis itself.

Meanwhile, parents argue their children are already taking the oil, which they say can stop their children’s life-threatening seizures.