Tynwald was back this week with members quizzing ministers on topics including school lunches, online degrees and medicinal cannabis.

Julie Edge – On how many occasions in the last 12 months the published primary school meals menu has not been provided?

Dr Al – From March 24 2020 to May 23 2020, school provided packed lunches. From June to July 2020, we also provided packed lunches to all returning primary school children and staff. Since September 2020, we’ve provided hot food at all times, even when the hub schools came into force.

Cpt Paul Quine – For many children in my constituency, a hot meal at school is their only nurishment, particularly during winter, would you agree this is important?

Dr Al – Yes, for some children this is incredibly important and this is why we take care to make sure they’re of the highest possible standard.

Julie Edge – Are you aware the menu is not being adhered to? I can give examples of when a Quorn wrap was on the menu and baked sausages, what was given was chips, cheese and gravy, how does your department quality check these meals? Who is responsible for this?

Dr Al – A welcome respite from Covid. Unfortunately our schools are shut but today they would’ve had curry or jacket potato with a salad bar available with chocolate pudding. But we make it clear that the menu may change at short notice, we try to keep this to a minimum. 

Kate Lord-Brennan – Are parents still being charged prepaid accounts since the lockdown?

Dr Al – If you mean the credit accounts, we have had parents ask if this can be refunded. If asked to then we will.

Julie Edge – Will you review this to make sure the excellent service is delivered as planned?

Dr Al – We do constantly review the meals and their nutrition content and work with Noble’s Hospital for a healthy menu. 

Julie Edge – How many students are funded for degree courses with an online provider?

Dr Al – Currently provided support for 25, 15 through Open University, others from a range of other universities.

Julie Edge – Will you review this as I know of people who have asked for support and they were advised you can’t get Open University funding, are all employees aware of the policy?

Dr Al – I can’t comment on individual applications but we won’t cover the same or lower level course or their income may be above the levels to apply, if you send me the details I’ll look into it.

Lawrie Hooper – Lower level of support for distance learning compared to in person learning, will you review this given the current situation?

Dr Al – There is currently reduced funding and the eligibility criteria is different, but we are in the process of reviewing this and new regs will come to Tynwald soon.

Julie Edge – Will you also review how people will retrain, so this will allow for other online courses for people who need to take their careers in a different direction without a degree?

Dr Al – Given the current problems, people are looking to reskill, UCM is partnered with Open University in a range of areas, visit https://www.ucm.ac.im for more information on this.

Martyn Perkins – With a drop in interest rate, will you look at student loan repayments?

Dr Al – It is pegged to the Bank of England base rate, so any changes in that changes our repayment charge.

Daphne Caine to ask the Minister for Health and Social Care – What plans his Department has to seek an amendment of the law to reclassify cannabis as a class C drug?

DA – No plans at this time to reclassify. 

Daphne Caine – Has it been considered by DHSC and would it be something the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs be advising on that? Why has it not met or reported during this administration?

DA – I have also asked why the Council hasn’t reported in so long, I am awaiting a response. It is a requirement for them to be consulted if we sought to make any changes, not had support in the past. I am happy to say personally I support reclassification but we have to be wary of unintended consequences after that, especially on Customs and Excise with the UK.

Daphne Caine to ask the Minister for Health and Social Care – What progress has been made with enabling the prescription of cannabis for medicinal use on the Island; and what GP engagement there has been on this?

DA – As reported in November, DHSC doesn’t fund cannabis products. This remains under review. As for GPs, they have been contacted recently to ask for interest. Of the 19 who responded, 17 said they weren’t willing to do it, only two said they would. Other considerations for funding issues such as any prescriber to be a specialist, NHS England requirements, we’d need to vary from that if we did it.

Daphne Caine – Could you give us more info on recent consultation with GPs, what proportion does that 19 makeup and were any moves made to contact remaining GPs? Two years since public consultation, the overwhelming majority of support in the public, we keep hearing it can be beneficial for people. We grow it so why can’t we prescribe it?

DA – My personal view is clear, but we have to be aware of taking GPs along with us. If we don’t have their support then we could end up with it being possible to prescribe it but the GPs won’t do it. It is frustrating for me personally, I want to see it available. 

Lawrie Hooper – GPs aren’t under an obligation to prescribe any drug, they prescribe what they think is best, why would cannabis be a big difference, we aren’t saying they have to prescribe it, just that they may.

DA – He’s quite right it wouldn’t be compulsory, but what is the point in changing the law if they won’t prescribe it. At the moment there are only two products carrying marketing authorisation so don’t have the same rigour of inspections on them. It isn’t as simple as just changing the law. Not a DHSC priority.

Claire Christian – Are you aware in Jersey it was just one clinic in 2019 and it’s now three clinics with just six GPs, so really we only need a small number to agree to prescribe it? Can we follow the Jersey method?

DA – We would have to vary from the UK model anyway, Jersey is a model we looked at but with everything else we’re up to at the moment, we don’t have the resources to do this. I have to be pragmatic despite my own views on this. I know primary care has looked at options but we have to balance resources, there are other issues with a higher priority.

Daphne Caine – Glad you’re personally in favour, is there push back in DHSC besides just medical personnel? There is a major will across the island, why not in DHSC, when could this be possible to make it available to those on island?

DA – I can’t pick a date out of the air, DHSC considered it in November and with everything else going on, we just can’t do it right now. Manx Care, Covid, day to day services, we’re very busy, but it is important to us. No one person can block it, but there is a wide range of views to take onboard. 

Rob Mercer MLC – Could you ask the Advisory Council to lay their annual report to Tynwald, as required by Misuse of Drugs Act, would be very helpful?

DA – I have asked why the reports haven’t been published, under the act, it is completely independent but we have asked where the reports are.

Claire Christian – Struggling to understand this delay, what would you suggest to the 30 or so people who are in need of this medicine? Any clarity over timescales?

DA – I’d love to give assurance, but I can’t. I’m sorry but other issues have to take priority right now. DHSC is absolutely stretched, we’ve got a pandemic on and we’ve got everything else to deal with too. I am keen to move it forward but outside DHSC I can’t push it. For me it’s a priority but I can’t give a timeframe.

Rob Mercer MLC – Are you aware of any mechanism where the Council can avoid laying the report to Tynwald?

DA – I stand to be corrected but I don’t know of any reason why it can do this.

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