Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health

Quarterly Update On Health Issues: Discussion

9:00 am

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

Yes, the Chairman also remembered it. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, has responsibility for our national drugs strategy. Issues that concern drugs on the whole will be dealt with in that strategy and I will ask the Minister of State to comment further on it. However, in terms of my area of responsibility within the Department, it is important to provide an update to the committee on it from a medical point of view. As have all Members of the Oireachtas, I have been contacted by many patients who have a strong belief that medicinal cannabis could provide them with significant pain relief or even allay symptoms of what are some very serious conditions. Yesterday, there was a briefing by Deputy Gino Kenny on a Bill that he intends to propose. I also met with Ms Vera Twomey, who has been advocating for this change based on the medical conditions of her daughter, Ava Barry, yesterday.

Last week I decided to initiate a review of Ireland's policy on medicinal cannabis. We have to be led by the evidence. My instinct is that I would like to see a change in policy, but it has to be evidence-based and based on best international practice. We must follow the clinical and scientific evidence. Therefore, I have asked the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, formerly the Irish Medicines Board, which is the body that is available to us in terms of clinical and scientific evidence, to do a body of work and to report to me in January of next year on its views based on its research into medicinal cannabis.

From our conversations and meetings on it and from the work of the committee, I know that the Chairman intends - commencing this month - that this committee would also carry out work on the issue, which I welcome as it will be extremely complementary to the work of the HPRA. In that regard, I understand that representatives from the HPRA will attend a meeting of his committee on 24 November. I have asked the chief executive of the HPRA to keep this committee up to date with its work so that the work of both bodies might dovetail, with a view to being in a position in January where, collectively, we would have the information available to us in terms of the scientific and clinical evidence.

I do not intend to dilly dally in terms of progressing any recommendations made but nor do I intend to buy into the myth that we can just snap our fingers and make changes in this regard tomorrow. There is an appropriate process, which is for both the HPRA and the committee to carry out their work. Having spoken to the Chairman yesterday, I know that a number of other countries have pursued a course of action in this regard. I do not wish to tell the committee its business but it may be of use to it committee to hear from them. For example, this week I wrote to my counterpart in Denmark. Denmark changed its policy in this regard on a four-year trial basis. I am eager to work on a cross-party basis. We will need to work on such a basis if we are to move this forward. I envisage that we would have a sense of the direction of travel we could collectively take by the end of January if people are prepared to take it.


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