The Department of Health spent close to €9,000 on couriers to collect and deliver medical cannabis from the Netherlands for dozens of Irish patients, who could not travel abroad during the Covid-19 lockdown, thehas learned.
Travel restrictions introduced during the pandemic saw the department step in to assist patients with ministerial licences for medical cannabis to obtain the drugs by setting up a “temporary collection and delivery scheme” using a courier service.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act the health minister can issue a licence to clinicians to prescribe medical cannabis to patients for treatment. By June this year ministerial licences were issued for 31 patients, “almost all” of whom travelled to the Netherlands to purchase medical cannabis.
The department confirmed to thethat collections and delivery of medical cannabis to date have cost approximately €8,975 and that 49 patients now have licences for medical cannabis.
“Since the minister for health announced the initiative to assist patients access to their medical cannabis products during Covid-19 in April, the Department of Health has organised a number of collections from the Netherlands, the latest of which is scheduled to take place at the end of this month,” a spokesperson for the department said.
It is understood that medical cannabis can cost up to €750 per month for patients, many of whom are children with refractive epilepsy that is resistant to conventional drug treatment.
People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny welcomed the department’s support during the pandemic but expressed concern over the lack of progress made on rolling out a five-year pilot Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP), which was first flagged in 2017 and signed into law 14 months ago.
The programme, he said, would replace the “cumbersome” licence system under which patients are not guaranteed to be reimbursed for the cost of medical cannabis.
“There are situations where people have been granted a licence or prescription for medical cannabis and just can’t afford it. There is no guarantee that patients will be reimbursed,” Mr Kenny said.
“It's a very arbitrary and complicated system and it needs to be streamlined through the new access programme,” he said.
The Dublin TD, who is hosting an online discussion next Monday to bring families and patients together to lobby the Government to deliver the programme, expressed further concern over a lack of funding after an internal departmental briefing document in June indicated the HSE had “no specific budgetary allocation” for the programme this year.
“If there's no budget in place then the programme will not be up and running this year. This is a huge concern but I’m not surprised because the communication around this programme has been shambolic,” MrKenny said.
The programme, he added, should be widened to include other conditions in addition to the three specified at present — drug-resistant refractory epilepsy, spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, and intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.