The medicinal access programme, which aims to provide patients that qualify for medicinal cannabis treatment, is being delayed as the government cannot find quality assured suppliers.
Almost two years ago, the Minister for Health Simon Harris announced that a medicinal cannabis centre would be established. This announcement came after recommendations in the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) report were published.
This scheme aims to allow patients of multiple sclerosis, patients who are experiencing vomiting and nausea due to chemotherapy and patients with severe treatment-resistant epilepsy to access cannabis treatments to ease symptoms.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin criticised the delay, saying that the date that government plan to begin this scheme remains a mystery. The number of patients waiting for cannabis products is growing all the time due to General Practitioners endorsement.
Martin said this delay “cannot go on” as some patients from Ireland have to travel abroad to Europe every three months to access the cannabis treatment which has been prescribed by their GP’s.
Gino Kenny, People Before Profit TD, will push for his Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill, which he states is “currently under an effective embargo” by the Government, despite the Dáil passing the vote last year. He said the hold up is preventing children and people who would greatly benefit from cannabis treatment from accessing it.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the problem lies in finding a reliable supplier who is capable of maintaining pharmaceutical standards and safety regulations.
Harris shared this same opinion, saying that there is a lack of cannabis products in Ireland creating the most difficult barrier in overcoming for the scheme. He said that while cannabis products are not medicines, they must meet appropriate standards.
The Department of Health however, said that cannabis products will not be subject to the same rigorous safety, quality and efficacy standards that are in place for medicines and nor are the suppliers and producers but must be approved by the HPRA.
The department said that currently, the Netherlands and Canada export cannabis products, however, the Netherlands only permits the export cannabis dried herb and does not allow the export of cannabis oil which is vital for some Irish patients.
Until the Government can find a supplier, doctors are still able to prescribe medicinal cannabis for patients who must obtain this prescription themselves from a Dutch pharmacy, therefore, they must travel.
Licences have been granted for 12 patients, the majority of whom are obtaining their prescription from the pharmacy in the Netherlands.
Harris said that his department has no control over the business decisions of manufacturers and cannot control whether they supply to Ireland. Officials went to Denmark last week to find suppliers however Harris said that this is essentially going off in new directions which will prolong the issue even longer. He said that we are two years on from the initial promise and progress is slow.
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