Middlesbrough MP makes emotional plea for access to medical cannabis as he remembers epileptic son

Andy McDonald - PA
Andy Mcdonald, Middlesbrough MP Credit: PA

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald fought back tears at the Commons today as he expressed regret over not having the "courage" to investigate whether medical cannabis could have saved the life of his son.

Rory McDonald was just 16 when he died with epilepsy 15 years ago.

In a plea for medical cannabis to be made more readily available, Mr McDonald urged the House not to block measures which could help epileptic children today.

The plea came during a debate on the Medical Cannabis (Access) Bill, which sets out measures to provide better access and medical evidence for use of the treatment.

Addressing the House, Mr McDonald said:

Mr McDonald's voice quivered as he continued saying:

“I never want to have any of those families to suffer such an outcome. I just bitterly regret that I have not shown the courage and the determination of people like Hannah Deacon in securing that medication for her child.

Mr McDonald said he does not know if medical cannabis would have helped his son, but added: “I beg members not to talk this Bill out today, as they have been instructed to do, but to do the right thing and help taking this small step today to help remove one of the barriers that are placed in the way of people so desperately in need of these treatments and give them access to this life-changing, and indeed life-saving, treatment.”

Jeff Smith, the Labour MP who sponsored the Bill, told MPs: “Significant numbers of people who would benefit from being prescribed medical cannabis on the NHS aren’t able to get the prescriptions that they need.”

The Manchester Withington MP said just three prescriptions for cannabis-based medicines have been issued since the treatment was legalised in 2018, adding he has been told there are around 10,000 private prescriptions in the UK.

Medical cannabis Credit: PA

The MP's Bill proposes a new commission on medical cannabis, which could give doctors and NHS bodies "more confidence in the evidence for prescribing these particular unlicensed medicines".

The commission would investigate alternative methods of testing the drugs as randomised controlled testing, the current "gold-standard" of medical evidence for drug testing, is "not suitable" for "whole plant extract" cannabis-based medicines, according to Mr Smith.

The Bill also seeks to create a register of GPs with specialist knowledge to prescribe the treatments.

Conservative MP Katherine Fletcher (South Ribble) said: "I think it is shaky ground for elected individuals to get into a position where we are strongly incentivising the system to tell medically qualified people who have taken an oath what to do."

She added the Bill's proposed commission did not follow established methods of medical testing and may not provide a "positive evidence base".