21st July 2021
By Emily Ledger
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In response to overwhelming calls for reform to Ireland’s Medical Cannabis Access Programme, the Department of Health has announced that medical cannabis patients will now be able to access direct payments to help cover the cost of their prescriptions.

The programme was launched in April last year, offering refunds for prescribed medical cannabis products. Prior to the launch of the scheme, patients and their families were required to travel to the Transvaal Apotheek pharmacy in the Netherlands to collect their prescriptions which posed significant difficulties, even pre-pandemic.

However, medical cannabis patients are now able to have their medicines delivered directly to their door – an arrangement that Ireland’s Minister for Health announced would continue post-pandemic.

Furthermore, the Irish government also offers refunds to reimburse medical cannabis patients for the cost of their medications. While this arrangement was welcomed, it has further difficulties have since come to light.

Under the refund scheme, medical cannabis patients and their families have still had to source the money to pay for their prescriptions upfront – amounts sometimes totalling thousands of euros each month. Patients would then need to apply to Ireland’s Health Services (HSE) in order to access a refund.

To address these issues, the Irish government has announced that the HSE will now pay the Dutch pharmacy directly for patient prescriptions.

Ireland’s Minister of Health, Stephen Donnelly, said in a statement: “I am delighted that the HSE and Transvaal Apotheek in the Netherlands are implementing a new process which will give peace of mind to the seventeen patients and their families who until now have been using the refund process.”

In many cases, the Irish government appears to have worked out a better system for medical cannabis access than the UK. However, it is important to note that there are currently only 17 approved medical cannabis prescription holders in the country, highlighting issues with patient access.

Currently, only three conditions are eligible for the prescription of medical cannabis in Ireland: spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy.

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