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Disability Benefit Appeal Success Hits All Time High

June 21, 2018

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Professor David Nutt: People will die unless medical cannabis is legalised

June 20, 2018

A press release from Left Foot Forward.

 

The UK’s former chief drug policy adviser has restated his support for legalising cannabis – and backed those who break the law for medical use. 

Prof Nutt recently worked on the Liberal Democrats’ recent review of drug legislation, which led the party to call for a ‘regulated market’ in cannabis.

In an interview with Left Foot Forward, Prof Nutt discusses Britain’s drugs laws, after the Home Office seized cannabis oil from Billy Caldwell – a boy with epilepsy who uses it to control his seizures.

The ensuing uproar has led to Sajid Javid launching a review into medicinal cannabis.

‘Bad law’

LFF asked Professor David Nutt – who now helps run the organisation DrugScience – if he backed Charlotte Caldwell and other parents in her situation. “Of course I do,” he says. Billy ‘would be dead if [his mother] didn’t break the law’.

“She made the law look absolutely ridiculous. And that’s why she won.”

Yet the current law is based on almost ‘religious belief’ about cannabis – making for ‘very bad law’, Prof Nutt claims.

Instead, we are witnessing “a revolution in patients directing treatments – it’s the parents who are changing medical practice. The doctors will never do it because they are far too part of the establishment. Except people like me who’ve been sacked…”

He points to examples across the world of policy changing: “The German government last year approved 57 separate applications for cannabis medicine, in conditions that haven’t responded to other treatments…and insisted German health insurers must reimburse.

“If it’s good enough for Germany, it’s good enough for us. Let it be – let’s just use it,” he said.

But the problem isn’t just confined to medical cannabis use. Does he still back full legalisation? “Totally.”

“There’d be significantly less harm from alcohol – in US states, people have a choice [between the two], so alcohol deaths are going down…a lot of people would prefer to be stoned than drunk,” he says.

“The big harms at present are driven by skunk – a regulated market would reduce skunk.”

‘Big pharma’

Prof Nutt said there are powerful voices against the move towards legalisation. ”There’s big resistance” he says. When Chief Medical Officer Sally Davis starts her review, she will have to apply a ‘completely inappropriate model’ for collecting evidence: huge multi-centre trials that will be too expensive to fund.

Prof Nutt claims the pharma companies will never do it: “It’s a scam by the anti-cannabis people to delay decision making…There will never be those multi centre trials…There is no profit in it.”

It’s a chicken or egg problem – calls for huge studies but no funding for it. “It would be 10 years [before we get results] – another 100 kids will be dead.

“We have to guard against a purist view.” There are ‘huge amounts of evidence’ for legalisation, he says.

Why is there such resistance from the industry?

“The pharma industry sees [cannabis] as competition – it will reduce the use of opioids. The anti-cannabis campaign will dig in their heels as hard as possible and keep saying ‘there’s no evidence’.

On Javid’s review

LFF asked Prof Nutt if, despite concerns, he welcomed Javid’s announcement of a review into medical cannabis use.

“There was a review by the Royal College of Physicians, and in the 2000s by the House of Lords which was brilliant and still relevant. We don’t need another review.”

He’s concerned that “it’s just a way of postponing decision making for another few years. Just get on and do it.”

He points to a new study showing magic mushrooms have huge therapeutic potential, potentially ‘revolutionising’ the treatment of depression.

Prof Nutt and colleagues will soon start the first UK study into MDMA surrounding the treatment of alcohol abuse.

There is significant anecdotal evidence that MDMA can help treat those who drink to ‘drown out’ trauma. But MDMA is currently a ‘Schedule 1’ drug – meaning no medical use is currently permitted.

The difficulty in getting permission to research these issues raises a bizarre contradiction: doctors can prescribe heroin (diamorphine) – but not, for example, cannabis or mushrooms.

His comments come after the Police Federation unanimously stated that the UK’s current drugs laws are not working, while a coalition of world-leading clinicians and academics is urging the government to change their policies.

“The police must hate it – arresting people for smoking a spliff is not what they want to do.

“What we have now is equivalent of the gin epidemic: cheap, powerful gin. We’ve got to get back to the old days of ‘beer’ – much less dangerous/toxic. If people were using hash instead of skunk, we’d have a lot less psychosis.”

Labour’s position

This week, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott announced that Labour would legalise medicinal cannabis use. But could they go further?

“I would dearly love if Labour were to say they’ll have proper review of drug policy.”

And what if Labour invited him back?

“Even if Alan Johnson invited me back, I’d come back” for a Labour policy review, he says.

“That was the saddest thing, as a socialist all my life to be sacked by Labour. But they weren’t Labour, they were new Tory really!”

Government Planning To Ask Job Applicants About Their Social Class

June 20, 2018

Facebook And Twitter Admit They Could Do More To Protect Disabled People

June 20, 2018

Facebook and Twitter have admitted they could do more to protect disabled people from online abuse, following criticism from the model and TV personality Katie Price, whose son Harvey has been victimised online.

The social media giants told MPs they could make the risks of abuse clearer to vulnerable people, and make the terms and conditions of using social media platforms easier for people with learning difficulties to understand.

Google, which runs the YouTube video platform, said it did not know whether it had consulted disabled people about making its terms and conditions clear to them. All three companies said they did not have any staff in the UK checking posts for abuse; their teams were based in Dublin.

The hearing in front of the Commons petitions committee came after Price launched a petition to make online bullying a criminal offence and to create a register of offenders.

“It’s got worse and worse,” she told the committee in February. “You name it [the form of abuse], Harvey’s got it.”

Price told the committee the complaints mechanism did not work properly because she did not receive a response when she flagged up abuse.

Twitter’s head of public policy and government, Nick Pickles, said on Tuesday: “This is something we need to look at more.”

However, he said: “One of the things we struggle with a lot is that it is possible to be offensive without breaking our rules. One of the biggest challenges with offence is it is subjective … where something has happened on national television and then that is shared on social media it is very difficult for us to act on something that is made very public given that content is in the public domain.”

Karim Palant, Facebook’s UK public policy manager, said disabled people were considered a “protected group” under its protocols, and that the company would have 20,000 people worldwide checking posts by the end of this year.

He said artificial intelligence software was able to pick up almost a third of the abuse, and Facebook took down 2.5m pieces of hate speech in the first quarter of this year.

The Labour MP Catherine McKinnell asked the companies what action they were taking on “mate crime”, saying “there are disabled people that have been befriended specifically with the intention of exploiting them”.

Palant said: “It’s a very challenging problem to solve using tools and technology. It looks like a genuine friendship. A lot of these are pre-existing relationships that may have started offline and are being carried on online.

“Realistically, we will make the reporting functions easier to access to people who are particularly vulnerable to some of these issues. Some of this is going to be about offline support and education … that we can provide.”

Medicinal Cannabis Use To Be Reviewed By UK Government

June 19, 2018

The use of medicinal cannabis is to be reviewed, which could lead to more prescriptions of drugs made from the plant, the home secretary has said.

The decision was prompted by recent high-profile cases of children with severe epilepsy being denied access to cannabis oil to control seizures.

But Sajid Javid stressed the drug would remain banned for recreational use.

Charlotte Caldwell, whose son Billy has severe epilepsy, welcomed the decision after campaigning for change.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Mr Javid said the position “we find ourselves in currently is not satisfactory”.

He said the cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell had made him conclude it was time to review the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The review would be held in two parts, Mr Javid told MPs. The first will make recommendations on which cannabis-based medicines might offer real medical and therapeutic benefits to patients.

In the second part, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will consider whether changes should be made to the classification of these products after assessing “the balance of harms and public health needs”.

He said: “If the review identifies significant medical benefits, then we do intend to reschedule [change the rules].”

He also announced that Alfie, from Kenilworth in Warwickshire, was being issued with a licence to receive cannabis-based drugs. The six-year-old has a very rare form of epilepsy that causes up to 150 seizures per month,

His family had originally applied to the government in April, saying his condition improved after using cannabis oil in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, Billy, 12, from County Tyrone, was granted a 20-day licence for the drug last week after doctors made clear it was a medical emergency.

He was admitted to hospital after his seizures “intensified” following his supply being confiscated at Heathrow Airport.

His mother Charlotte, speaking after Mr Javid’s statement, said: “Common sense and the power of mothers and fathers of sick children has bust the political process wide open and is on the verge of changing thousands of lives by bringing our medicinal cannabis laws in line with many other countries.”

But she added that while it was a “clearly largely positive” announcement, “we still want to hear the details”.

Ms Caldwell also revealed that she has been asked to be on the panel of experts set up on Monday by the government to assess individual applications for cannabis oil.

Currently, anyone wishing to use a drug containing a controlled cannabis-based substance must apply to the Home Office for a licence – a process that Labour MP Andy McDonald, whose son died as a result of epilepsy, has described as “tortuous” and “painful”. Each application is considered on its merits.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott welcomed Mr Javid’s statement, telling MPs that it was “long overdue”.

Lady Meacher, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform – which two years ago called for cannabis-based drugs to be legalised – said the move was a “no brainer” which could benefit many people.

She said: “About one million people, probably, could benefit from medical cannabis – people with severe pain, obviously children with terrible epilepsy.

“There are 200,000 people in this country with uncontrolled epileptic seizures; MS sufferers, people with Parkinson’s, people with cancer.

“So there are just so many people who must be celebrating today, and I’m celebrating with them.”

She compared cannabis with morphine, and said it was “much, much safer, less addictive and has much, much less in the way of side effects”.

Analysis: ‘Javid’s own stamp’

By Chris Mason, political correspondent

Amid the noise of politics, this row is a reminder of the power of desperate human stories and the power of a new arrival at the Home Office who has repeatedly shown his willingness to do the job his own way.

Imagine, for a moment, the anguish of the families of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell. The pain of a parent seeing their son suffer.

And then having to walk outside the hospital door and front a political campaign.

A matter of months ago, there was no prospect of a shift in the law.

On the Windrush saga, on immigration, and now on medicinal cannabis, Sajid Javid is a home secretary putting his own stamp on the role.

The UK’s drugs regulations currently divide drugs into five “schedules”, each specifying in what circumstances it is lawful to possess, supply, produce, export and import them.

Cannabis is currently a Schedule 1, meaning it is thought to have no therapeutic value and therefore cannot be lawfully possessed or prescribed, but can be used for the purposes of research with a Home Office licence.

Drugs in Schedules 2 and 3, such as methadone, can be prescribed and therefore legally possessed and supplied by pharmacists and doctors.

One cannabis-based drug called Sativex, containing CBD and the banned THC – has been licensed in the UK to treat MS and is a Schedule 4.

But Mr Javid added that the move to review medicinal cannabis use was “in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use”. Patients prescribed Sativex, who resupply it to other people, face prosecution.

That followed calls from former Conservative leader Lord Hague, who said the government should consider legalising the recreational use of cannabis.

But NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said it was important not to confuse the debate “without at the same time reminding ourselves that there are some genuine health risks” associated with smoking cannabis.

Does cannabis have medicinal benefits?

By Michelle Roberts, BBC News online health editor

Cannabis contains different active ingredients and experts say some of them might be therapeutic for certain patients.

THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the part that makes people feel “high”, but CBD or cannabidiol is another component found in cannabis that scientists are interested in understanding more about as medical treatments.

CBD-based treatments have shown some promising results for reducing seizures in children with severe epilepsies.

Medical trials of cannabis-based medicines have largely focused on pharmacological preparations, but some parents of children with epilepsy have been buying oils containing CBD and THC.

There is currently little scientific evidence on the safety and effectiveness of these oils as a treatment for epilepsy, although they do contain the same active ingredients.

Some health food shops sell CBD oils as food supplements. These have low levels of active ingredient and are legal to buy in the UK.

It is vital that you talk to your doctor or health professional before making any changes to your epilepsy medication.

NHS70: SPLISH SPLASH

June 19, 2018

A press release:

NHS70: SPLISH SPLASH
National Theatre Wales & Oily Cart
Written & Directed by Tim Webb
Designed by Jens Cole
Music direction by Max Reinhardt
Music composed by Max Reinhardt and arranged by George Panda
Hydrotherapy pools in schools, hospices and hospitals across Wales
Throughout July
A multi-sensory, underwater, touring production created with theatre
company Oily Cart, performed exclusively for young people aged 3-19 in hydrotherapy pools in schools, hospices and hospitals.
This immersive, interactive floating show ignites and delights every sense. Hydrotherapy pools will be transformed into watery wonderlands by underwater lighting, clouds of bubbles drifting from below, curtains of spray, and live music played on floating instruments, with a sound that can be felt as much as heard.
There will be three, distinct versions of Splish Splash:
• one for those with profound and multiple learning disabilities;
• one for those on the autism spectrum; and
• one for the deafblind, with or without any cognitive impairment.
It will be director Tim Webb’s final work as Artistic Director of Oily Cart, after 30 years at the helm.
Since 1981 Oily Cart has been taking its unique blend of theatre to children and young people in schools and venues across the UK.
Challenging accepted definitions of theatre and audience, they create innovative, multi-sensory and highly interactive productions for the very young and for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. By transforming everyday environments into colourful, tactile ‘wonderlands’, Oily Cart invite audiences to join them in a world of the imagination. Using hydrotherapy pools and trampolines, aromatherapy, video projection, and puppetry together with a vast array of multi-sensory techniques, they create original and highly specialised theatre for young audiences.

‘Uneccessary’ PIP Reassessments To End

June 19, 2018

With many thanks to Benefits And Work.

The government has claimed it is going to put an end to “unnecessary” PIP reviews later this summer, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton announced today.

Newton claimed:

“We’ve listened to feedback from organisations and the public, and this common-sense change will ensure that the right protections are in place while minimising any unnecessary stress or bureaucracy.”

The DWP says it will issue new guidance which will mean that people who are:

  • awarded the highest level of support under PIP; and
  • whose needs are expected to stay the same or increase

will receive an ongoing award of PIP with a “light touch” review every 10 years.

According to the DWP:

“The government will be working with stakeholders to design the light touch review process so that it adds value for both our claimants and the department – for example, by providing information on services available and ensuring that contact or bank details have not changed.”

It sounds like the change will affect claimants who have an award of the enhanced rates of both the mobility and daily living component and whose condition is either very unlikley to change or where their condition is a progressive one which is only likely to become more severe over time.  However, we won’t know for sure until the DWP publish their detailed guidance.  We’ll give more details as soon as they become available.

You can read the full statement here

If the DWP sticks to this, it will be a big piece of progress that Same Difference has been calling for for quite some time. We have never agreed with regular reassessments for severely disabled people, for any benefit. We will follow this closely and hope for a victory when full details are published.