To break out a bit of harmony after the previous question, I thank Deputy Gino Kenny for his role in advocating for medicinal cannabis. We may not fully agree on the approach to take but I acknowledge the Deputy's sincere commitment on the issue of medicinal cannabis and helping people from a compassionate point of view. I also acknowledge Deputy Micheál Martin's work on this issue. Deputies Gino Kenny, Micheál Martin and I worked for a lengthy period on this issue, which is beyond politics. Other Deputies also worked on it. I was pleased to be able to sign into law legislation underpinning the medical cannabis access programme on 26 June. It is fair to say, as Deputy Kenny acknowledged, that this is a significant milestone and represents the outcome of more than two years of detailed work involving the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, an expert reference group of clinicians, since it was important to get clinical buy-in, the Health Service Executive and my Department.
With this legislation in place, for the first time in Ireland potential producers and suppliers can apply to the HPRA to have cannabis products assessed for suitability for medical use in this programme. The programme is intended for patients with certain conditions for whom conventional medicines have not worked. This is not the first line of treatment but for people who have tried everything else for these conditions where conventional medicine is not working and their treating consultant believes this to be an appropriate course of action. Once suitable products are available, it will be possible for a medical consultant to prescribe a listed cannabis-based treatment for a patient under his or her care for the following medical conditions where the patient has failed to respond to standard treatments, namely, spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and epilepsy. Work on establishing this programme began in March 2017 and follows on from the roadmap laid out by the Health Products Regulatory Authority’s expert report titled, Cannabis for Medical Use - A Scientific Review, published in March 2017.
The HPRA report did not recommend the inclusion of chronic pain in the access programme, but I reassure the Deputy, who has taken a close interest in the development of the programme, that this position will be kept under review and if better clinical evidence becomes available in the future, the inclusion of conditions such as chronic pain can be considered. For patients with conditions such as chronic pain, the ministerial licence route is an option to access medicinal cannabis outside of the programme.