Patients prescribed medical cannabis products in Ireland will no longer have to travel to the Netherlands to collect their medication.
Campaigner Vera Twomey said the news has come as a "complete surprise", and is a positive move - but clarity is needed on how exactly it will work.
She said collecting medical cannabis from the Netherlands was an '18-hour round trip', and COVID-19 made the situation even more difficult.
Announced on Monday morning, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly shared that a delivery service of medical cannabis products for prescription patients is to be made permanent.
Prior to this, patients had to travel to The Netherlands to obtain their prescription.
The new service was originally created in April as a temporary fix for immunocompromised patients living in Ireland who could no longer travel due to the coronavirus.
The Minister has now confirmed that this will now be made permanent.
In a statement, he said: “Many patients and their families have shared stories with both me and officials in my Department about how this initiative has made a huge improvement to their lives.
"They spoke about the stress of having to travel regularly and the associated health risks with that, as well as their concerns that they would run out of their medication.
“I am so pleased that these problems will now be a thing of the past for them. There will no longer be a need for them to travel abroad in order to collect their prescribed cannabis products. Instead, they can focus on their health and wellbeing. The welfare of patients and their families comes first and I am happy to reassure them that they will no longer have to personally source their prescriptions."
Authorities in the Netherlands have forbidden the commercial export of cannabis oils but will allow the filling of individual prescriptions from EU states.
Medical cannabis campaigner Vera Twomey's daughter has Dravet's Syndrome and has a licence to use the product. She was approved to use the treatment legally back in 2017 but had to travel to The Netherlands to fill out the prescription.
She explained: "When COVID struck, we were in a very difficult position. You couldn't be doing anything more dangerous at that time than travelling on an aeroplane to an international hub, which Schipol is. And then to travel on trains or trams from there down to the pharmacy to collect the medication.
"So, we asked for something to be done about that situation. A temporary, emergency situation was put in place to have medication delivered while restrictions were put in place."
Speaking on Lunchtime Live, Vera said how she has pushed the Irish Government to do something about this before.
She said: "Patients in England and patients in Northern Ireland, the Home Office made arrangements for those patients to be able to have their medical cannabis medication dispensed locally.
"And I approached the Government and the Controlled Drug Unit in the Department of Health asking them to put in place the same system which was operational in the UK and Northern Ireland. At the time, they didn't act upon it. But, thankfully, it appears that efforts have now been made to resolve this issue."
Prior to March of this year when the first set of restrictions were issued, Vera and her family were travelling to the Netherlands to obtain her daughter Ava's medicine every 12 weeks.
She explained: "It was difficult. From Cork, it was an 18 hour round trip. It was such an unnecessary hassle... The dangers that COVID presented were so dangerous for vulnerable people that I think the Government were in a position where they really had to act.
"The people that are prescribed medical cannabis in this country as a whole, the majority would be majority immunocompromised or vulnerable so it was that exact group of people that COVID posed the most danger to.
"When we experienced the peace of having the medication delivered to us, we were almost like any other normal family with a medication. Whereas prior to that, we were treated as if we were different by being made to travel for it."
Officials in the Department of Health are now expected to finalise the arrangements in respect of how the collection and delivery service will work on a permanent basis into the future.
Photo: Vera Twomey. Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie