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Liz Truss thanks Saudi crown prince for helping to secure release of British POWs from Ukraine | Politics News

Liz Truss has thanked the crown prince of Saudi Arabia for his help securing the release of five Britons captured by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, in their first call since she became prime minister.

Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and John Harding have been identified as three of the Brits freed “by the skin of their teeth” in a surprise prison swap last week.

The Foreign Office had been working for months to support those detained, but it is believed the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, was crucial in negotiating the release.

Ukraine latest news: Putin ‘could be ousted by ultra-nationalists’

Health minister Robert Jenrick, the MP in Mr Aslin’s constituency, told Sky News the royal had been asked to help because not only was Saudi Arabia “an ally and partner of the UK” but also because it is a country, through its role in OPEC (the group of oil-producing nations), that has an ongoing relationship with Russia.

In a statement about their call, Downing Street said: “The prime minister thanked the crown prince for his personal role in securing the release of five British detainees held by Russia-backed forces in eastern Ukraine last week, to the great relief of their families.”

They discussed their “strategic partnership” on defence and energy security, while Ms Truss also offered the UK’s “continued encouragement for progress in Saudi Arabia’s domestic reforms”, according to No 10.

Saudi Arabia is a strategic partner of the UK, but the relationship is controversial because of its record on human rights.

In June, when she was foreign secretary, Ms Truss offered a robust defence of British ties to the Gulf state, stressing that the world is not “perfect”.

She was speaking following the launch of talks on a fresh trade deal between the UK and six Gulf nations.

Aiden Aslin
Shaun Pinner (centre) and Aiden Aslin (right). John Harding has his thumb up. Pic: Cossackgundi

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Downing Street said the prime minister reiterated her focus on agreeing a strong UK-GCC trade deal in their call on Monday afternoon.

A spokesperson added: “They discussed the strategic partnership between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia across a range of issues, including cooperation on defence and energy security.

“The leaders welcomed progress in ending the conflict in Yemen and agreed on the importance of continuing political dialogue to extend the truce.”

Meanwhile, the Saudi crown prince also offered his “sincere condolences” on the death of the Queen.

“The leaders looked forward to continuing to grow the strong relationship fostered during her late Majesty’s reign”, the spokesperson said.

Pound steadies as markets expect Bank of England action to prop up UK currency | Business News

The collapse of the value of the pound in the wake of Friday’s mini-budget appears to have stalled, for now, but only thanks to market expectations that the Bank of England will intervene.

The rout for sterling, which began after Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng revealed a £45bn tax cut plan on top of government aid for energy bills, was a consequence of concern over the levels of borrowing required.

It essentially called in to question the confidence the market had for sustainable public finances in the UK, pushing up the rates demanded by investors to hold UK bonds – government IOUs – which will be used to fund the growth plan.

The pound hit an all-time low versus the dollar of $1.0327 early on Monday but it later recovered some lost ground and had settled around $1.0767 early on Tuesday.

There were three main factors behind the limited fightback.

One was a statement from the Treasury on Monday aimed at soothing nerves around Friday’s giveaways.

It revealed that Mr Kwarteng was to set out a “medium-term fiscal plan” on 23 November which would also contain independent analysis from the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The second was due to a statement from the Bank of England which affirmed it would “not hesitate” to raise interest rates to prop up the value of sterling.

The final facet can be traced across the Atlantic where the dollar – the world’s reserve currency which has strengthened significantly this year amid the economic turmoil linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine – fell back against a basket of international currencies.

Analysts cited renewed investor interest in stocks but remained cautious about the outlook as markets, already jittery at the prospect of US interest rates staying higher for longer, have been further unnerved by the upheaval for the pound and UK bond yields.

The volatility has been blamed for a number of mortgage providers withdrawing products from sale.

Victoria Scholar, head of investment at Interactive Investor, said markets were pricing in an emergency rate hike with 175 basis points’ (1.75%) worth of increases by November.

“The slump in sterling could exacerbate the UK’s inflation problem, with price levels currently flirting with double digits.

“More expensive imports may add to the UK’s upward price pressures, which is likely to prompt more aggressive action from central bank policy makers.”

Four arrested after 100 football fans descend on Wembley pub and assault customers | UK News

Four people have been arrested after around 100 football fans descended on a pub in Wembley and started assaulting customers.

Although several members of the group were wearing England hats and scarves, it is believed they were German fans, the Metropolitan Police said.

The force said the group entered the beer garden at the pub, believed to be the Green Man Pub, and began assaulting people who had gathered in the area to attend the England vs Germany match today.

It said punches were thrown along with projectiles including traffic cones.

Officers responded and the group fled.

Footage on social media shows a scuffle break out in the pub’s beer garden.

The Met said the disorder lasted for around two minutes.

Several people were injured, sustaining head and facial injuries.

Three were left with serious leg, wrist and thumb injuries. None of the injuries are believed to be life-threatening.

Four people have been arrested in relation to the disorder so far, the Met said.

The match between England and Germany was a 3-3 draw.

Gary Neville rules out bid to become Labour MP as he joins Keir Starmer on conference stage | Politics News

Former footballer Gary Neville has ruled out any future bid to become a Labour MP.

Appearing at the party’s conference in Liverpool on Monday, he said he has “no intention of going into politics” as he does not want to give up the businesses he co-owns or his work in football.

The Manchester United defender turned Sky Sports pundit added that he is “not going to be tempted” to stand in the upcoming by-election in West Lancashire.

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The former England star confirmed he had joined the Labour Party back in January this year.

But speaking to broadcasters on Monday, he ruled out any further progression.

“It’s something that I’ve been asked regularly over the last 12 to 18 months,” he said.

“I’ve got no intention of going into politics at all because the reality is I love what I do so much.

“I love what I do in football. I love what I do in the in Greater Manchester with the businesses that I co-own.

“And I have to say that I wouldn’t want to give that up. I feel as though I’m happy in what I’m doing.

“I want to continue to do the things that I’m doing locally in Greater Manchester. I have to say that I feel politically motivated, but I can do as much, I think, for the Labour Party being here today as I can do being an MP.”

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Britain's Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and Former footballer Gary Neville attend Britain's Labour Party's annual conference in Liverpool, Britain, September 26, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

‘Get behind Keir Starmer’

In a later conversation on the main conference stage with Keir Starmer and shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell, Neville urged delegates to “get behind” the Labour leader as he is a “serious politician”.

Asked what advice he would give the party to put it on the path to victory, he said: “Remain laser-focused and aligned behind a single goal – which is to remove this Conservative government and put everything else aside and focus on that alone.”

He added: “Not only is this current government damaging us in our country, our relationships with our partners in Europe and around the world are broken and shattered.

“We need to rebuild our reputation and that is not going to happen under a Conservative government.”

Asked for his view on Liz Truss, Neville said: “She has tanked the pound lower than my reputation in Liverpool.”

Entering the stage, he had joked: “Usually when I see reds in Liverpool I’m in big trouble. It is the best reception I have ever had here.”

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves attacks Liz Truss’s economic plan which ‘has been tested and has failed’ | Politics News

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said the UK Government is putting the economy in danger and attacked Prime Minister Liz Truss’s plan of “trickle-down economics” after the pound sank to a record low against the dollar.

Sterling slipped to a low of $1.0327 on Monday, before stabilising at around $1.07, following lows seen after Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled his £45bn tax-slashing package in the mini-budget on Friday.

She described “trickle-down economics” as an idea that “has been tried, has been tested and has failed”, during a speech at Labour’s conference in Liverpool.

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“We are facing a national emergency,” she said. “Energy prices up the cost of the weekly food shop up, people’s wages not keeping up.

“On Friday, the chancellor had an opportunity to set out a serious response to the cost of living crisis. And he failed.”

Ms Reeves added: “The message from financial markets was clear on Friday, and this morning the message is even more stark – sterling is down [and] that means higher prices.”

Ms Reeves promised a new deal for working people, with strengthened rights, saying “minimum wage will be set at a level that reflects the real cost of living”.

Among her priorities, she said she would double the number of medical school places “so our NHS has the doctors that it needs” – and also double the number of district nurses and create 10,000 more nursing and midwife places every year.

‘Those at the top will pay their fair share’

The shadow chancellor said the new vacancies – which include 5,000 new health visitors – will be funded by bringing back the 45p income tax rate cut introduced by the government last week.

She said: “I can tell you, those at the top will pay their fair share.”

Labour said the tax cut will cost £6bn between now and 2026/2027 and benefit just 600,000 of the highest earners – each of whom will receive £10,000.

The party said that by reversing the cut, they can fund “one of the biggest expansions of the NHS workforce in history”.

The shadow chancellor described the Conservative Party’s record as “12 years of failure”, adding: “It’s time for a government that is on your side, and that government is a Labour government.”

She said: “The prime minister is content to let energy giants pocket the cash and leave your children and your grandchildren to pick up the tab.

“Under these Tories, those with the broadest shoulders carry the lightest load. And not by accident, but by choice.

“It is time for a government that is on your side.”

Pound sinks to record low against the dollar as chancellor and prime minister defend mini-budget | Business News

The pound has fallen to a record low against the dollar amid a fresh investor rush towards the US currency globally.

Sterling slipped by nearly 5% early on Monday to $1.0327 – building on fresh 1985 lows seen on Friday after UK chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng unveiled the biggest programme of tax cuts for 50 years.

The market delivered a verdict on whether the public finances would be sustainable following the £45bn tax-slashing package.

The pound plunged below its all-time low against the greenback – set in February 1985 – of $1.054 early on Monday in Asian trading, fuelling fears that parity was even possible.

Cost of living latest

It later stabilised around $1.05405 – still 3% below the previous session’s close and 7% down on where it had stood early on Friday morning before the mini-budget.

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The government’s growth plan was clearly the catalyst for Friday’s plunge but traders said it had since intensified the focus more widely as the dollar also shot up against a basket of other international currencies.

Joseph Capurso, head of international economics at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, wrote: “The poor situation in the UK exacerbates support for the USD, (which) can track higher again this week.

“If a sense of crisis about the world economy were to emerge, the USD could jump significantly.”

The euro fell to fresh 20-year lows versus the greenback amid growing recession fears linked to the war in Ukraine and in the wake of Italy’s elections that will see a far-right leader become the country’s new PM.

The Japanese yen was among other currencies in focus.

The trouble for both the UK and Europe more generally is that weak currencies raise dollar denominated import costs, potentially fuelling inflation further.

The UK also faces goods from the continent becoming more expensive because its value has also slipped sharply versus the euro – standing at €1.0948.

Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Avatrade, believed sterling would fall back again in European dealing.

“The reality is that the cost of living crisis is going to become even worse as the currency has fallen this much.

“We believe that the GBP/USD pair could easily reach parity this week, if not in the coming days, given the current momentum that we are experiencing in the market.

“In order to save the currency from a huge disaster, the Bank of England is now likely to increase the interest rate by a full percentage point, and it is highly possible that the Bank of England does this in an unprecedented fashion.

Both the chancellor and Prime Minister Liz Truss defended their programme.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Ms Truss rejected comparisons with US President Joe Biden’s approach after he said he was “sick and tired of trickle-down economics”.

She said: “We all need to decide what the tax rates are in our own country, but my view is we absolutely need to be incentivising growth at what is a very, very difficult time for the global economy.”

Asked whether she was “recklessly running up the deficit,” Ms Truss said: “I don’t really accept the premise of the question at all.”

Mr Kwarteng suggested his announcements were just the beginning of the government’s agenda to revive the UK’s stagnant economy.

“We’ve only been here 19 days. I want to see, over the next year, people retain more of their income because I believe that it’s the British people that are going to drive this economy,” he told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme.

Read more: Mini-budget: PM going for broke in hope of winning big – but has she misjudged the public mood? | Beth Rigby

Mr Kwarteng is reportedly considering abolishing a charge for parents who earn more than £50,000 and claim child benefit, increasing the annual allowances on pension pots and a tax break for people who stay at home to care for children or loved ones.

If sterling fell to parity with the US dollar, it could trigger a rebellion among Tory backbenchers who could refuse to vote for the government’s finance bill or submit letters of no confidence, the Daily Telegraph reported, citing backers and critics of the prime minister.

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Truss and Kwarteng defend plans

Asked whether he was nervous about the dropping pound, falling stock markets and rising cost of government borrowing, Mr Kwarteng said: “We’ve got to have a much more front-footed approach to growth and that’s what my Friday statement was all about.

“I think that if we can get some of the reforms… if we get business back on its feet, we can get this country moving and we can grow our economy, and that’s what my focus is 100% about.”

He refused to comment on market movements, saying: “I’ve been focused on the longer term and the medium term, and I think it was absolutely necessary that we had a long-term growth plan.”

Great debate
Nearly half of UK’s offshore wind capacity owned by state-owned foreign entities, analysis shows | Climate News

Nearly half of all the UK’s offshore wind capacity is owned by state-owned or majority state-owned foreign entities, according to new analysis exclusively shared with Sky News.

Denmark’s Orstead, which is majority owned by the Danish government, and Norway’s Equinor come top of the list of public entities with the largest stake in UK offshore wind power, at 20% and 9% respectively.

They are followed by state-owned organisations in Sweden, Italy, China and France, according to analysis by the Common Wealth think tank and provided exclusively to Sky News.

Common Wealth’s assessment of publicly available data from the Crown Estate, which owns and leases much of the seabed around this country, found that the UK is twelfth on the list, behind United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Germany, Japan and Malaysia.

In large part this is because the UK government only owns a small renewable energy company called Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, which is focused on research and innovation and holds a tiny percentage of capacity.

Director of Common Wealth Matthew Laurence said: “Public ownership of renewable power is already widespread in the North Sea – it just benefits other countries.

“It is time we correct that by creating a UK green energy generator: it would roll out clean power infrastructure faster, fairer, and more affordably than the status quo.”

Common Wealth’s report added that in 2021 alone, £2.5bn of energy bills paid by UK consumers went to foreign state-owned entities.

It also found that of the 58% of UK offshore wind capacity owned by private businesses, just a third are headquartered in the UK.

The largest private owners are Germany’s RWE, Scotland’s SSE, and Spain’s Iberdrola.

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The Trades Union Congress has also called for what it referred to as a “public energy champion” that would invest excess profits from the generation of electricity to cut bills and insulate homes.

Clean energy and climate change will be a key theme of this week’s Labour Party conference, although Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has dropped plans to nationalise energy companies.

Prime Minister Liz Truss has spoken positively about wind and nuclear power but is resisting calls to expand a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies, has lifted a ban on fracking for shale gas in the UK, and is preparing to grant nearly 100 new licenses for drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea.

Watch the Daily Climate Show at 3.30pm Monday to Friday, and The Climate Show with Tom Heap on Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm and 7.30pm.

All on Sky News, on the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.

British prisoner of war John Harding used as a ‘punching bag’ over days of torture in Ukraine | World News

A freed British prisoner of war who was held by Russian-backed separatists has told Sky News how he was tortured over several days.

John Harding said he was used as a “punching bag” by the guards in a holding facility in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.

The centre was run by the MGB, which he said was the equivalent of Russia’s FSB, formerly the KGB.

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He said he was held there for about nine days in a small cell about 4ft by 6ft, between being taken to the prosecutor’s office for questioning.

Mr Harding was one of five Britons freed in recent days in a prisoner swap with Russia. He is now back in the UK after his release with the help of the Ukrainians and the Saudis.

Shaun Pinner (centre) and Aiden Aslin (right). John Harding has his thumb up
Mr Harding, left, with fellow POWs Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin on a plane after their release

Mr Harding had been in Ukraine teaching its soldiers how to use first aid kits.

When the Russians crossed the border in the February invasion, they were near his base and he ended up in the Azovstal steel complex, where he and his colleagues fled because it was a good defensive position with underground tunnels.

They were surrounded after the site was besieged by Russian forces and famously held out there for a number of weeks before surrendering in May due to running very low on ammunition.

He said he was originally taken to a prisoner of war camp for about four days before being transported to the holding facility where he suffered days of torture.

Mr Harding said he suffered a fractured sternum, damage to his coccyx, broken ribs and neurological damage to his hand in the holding centre in Donetsk.

John Harding pictured during a court hearing in Donetsk in August
Mr Harding at a court hearing in Donetsk in August

He said he was beaten up about five to six times “for fun”.

“Every time we left for the prosecutor’s office we got beaten up.”

In the worst attack, which lasted about 30 minutes, he said he was handcuffed with his arms behind his back and was pushed to the floor.

He said at least four guards kicked him in the chest, ribs, kidneys and in the face.

“One man stood on my hips and jumped up and down,” he said.

John Harding pictured in a courtroom in Donetsk in August. Pic: AP
Pic: AP

He added: “I think I used to quite annoy the guards because I tend not to scream when I’m beaten and I think that annoyed them.”

Mr Harding admitted he feared for his life several times.

“I had a feeling… if they kicked you to death they wouldn’t be that bothered. I thought it was heading that way.

“If you are going to be killed best to get it over with. They enjoyed it, the tormentors.”

He said he was given “very little food and water” and not allowed any exercise during his time there.

The cell had no windows so he never knew what time of day it was.

Mr Harding said after about nine days in detention he was moved to a civilian prison where he was kept for months until his release.

He said the treatment in the jail was not as bad as that which he faced in the detention centre.

Labour members sing national anthem and hold minute’s silence in patriotic opening to conference | Politics News

Labour members held a minute’s silence for the Queen and sang the national anthem in a patriotic opening to the annual party conference.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also paid tribute to the late monarch, telling party members it “still feels impossible to imagine a Britain without her”.

He said: “For us, the late Queen has always been simply the Queen, the only Queen. Above all else, our Queen. And I am proud to lead our party’s tribute to her today.”

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The speech was followed by a well-observed minute’s silence, before members sang God Save The King.

There had been fears of disruption or boos from republican delegates, but none of that materialised.

Many people in the hall were seen singing along and applause was heard once it concluded.

However, Labour did have to help people who didn’t know the words, as sheets of paper with the lyrics were handed out at the event in Liverpool.

It is the first time in recent history the national anthem has been sung at the annual party conference.

Labour said the party wanted to reflect recent events.

But party sources are pointing to the proceedings as evidence of how much the party has changed under Sir Keir.

Labour handed out sheets of paper with the lyrics to the national anthem
Labour handed out sheets of paper with the lyrics to the national anthem

“Can you imagine that happening under Jeremy Corbyn?” one asked Sky News.

The former leader said on Saturday he found it “odd” that the conference was opening with the national anthem.

Mr Corbyn had been critical of the monarchy during his leadership, saying during the 2019 election that it needed “improvement”. He also faced a backlash when he did not sing the national anthem at a commemoration service in 2015.

Sir Keir has attempted to strike a more patriotic tone in his mission to win the keys to Number 10.

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Sir Keir Starmer paid tribute to the late Queen

Earlier, he told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme that he had picked Labour “up off the canvas” after the 2019 general election hammering which saw the Tories under Boris Johnson win an 80-seat majority.

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He said the hope of a Labour government has now turned into a belief and that switch “is worth its weight in gold”.

In the same interview, he confirmed he will reverse the cut in the higher rate of income tax if it wins power at the next election.

In the first announcements of the conference, Sir Keir will also set out plans to make the UK a world-leading clean energy superpower by 2030 as an urgent priority of a future Labour government and to bolster neighbourhood policing.

Free medicinal cannabis to be donated to epileptic children in the UK | UK News

Scores of epileptic children in the UK are set to receive medicinal cannabis for free, after private firms responded to a Northern Ireland mother’s plea.

Charlotte Caldwell, from Co Tyrone, campaigned for help for families facing large bills for privately-prescribed cannabis as they go through a lengthy application process for NHS treatment.

Now, three private manufacturers have agreed to donate medicinal cannabis to children who are in that process.

Speaking to Sky News from her home near Castlederg, Ms Caldwell said the move “will make a huge difference to these families. At the moment, as we’re all aware, we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis, and this is really going to relieve the financial burden on those families”.

Ms Caldwell’s son Billy, who lives with severe refractory epilepsy, was the first person in the UK to be prescribed medicinal cannabis after his mother embarked on an intensive campaign.

In November 2018, Sajid Javid, the then home secretary, changed the law to allow patients to be prescribed medical cannabis by specialist doctors.

Billy, now aged 17, receives a cannabis treatment three times a day, and his mother says it has reduced the number of seizures he suffers from around 100 a day to practically none.

“Billy’s doing incredibly well, it’s made a massive difference,” said Ms Caldwell.

Charlotte Caldwell, who seeking a cannabis oil supply to treat her sick son 12-year-old Billy (left)
Charlotte Caldwell and 12-year-old Billy (left) in 2018

90 families with epileptic children trying to access treatment

Around 90 families with epileptic children in the UK are attempting to access cannabis treatment on the NHS, but considerable hurdles remain.

They must apply for NHS funding of their child’s treatment via the Refractory Epilepsy Specialist Clinical Advisory Service (RESCAS), a process that can take as long as eight months. While they await for a decision, they face bills of thousands of pounds for the cannabis products.

In London, Maddy Barrindon-Amat is engaging with the NHS process for treatment for her 16-year-old daughter Mia, who has epilepsy. In the meantime, she’s had to take out a loan to pay for the drugs.

“Cost-wise we are paying about £780 every four weeks for the cannabis medication from a private clinic,” she said.

Charlotte and Billy Caldwell
Charlotte and Billy Caldwell

“When we realised that to get the cannabis products that we want and had to go privately, our friends and family chipped in and helped us out a great deal, and we then had to take out a loan to try and keep going.

“Our loan is slowly dwindling, so we really need to find another way of getting the cannabis products through the NHS.”

Ms Barrindon-Amat is hopeful she can avail of the free cannabis that Ms Caldwell has negotiated from the private manufacturers.

“If we didn’t have to worry about finding that money every four weeks to pay for a medication, it’d be a huge weight lifted off our shoulders.

“The NHS has been perceived as being very slow on the uptake for this. We’ve already got enough pressure, and we don’t need any more.”

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil bottles of Swedish DeHolk AB company are pictured during the Cannabis Business Europe 2018 congress in Frankfurt, Germany, August 28, 2018. Picture taken August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

NHS defends RESCAS process

A spokesperson told Sky News: “These are individual clinical decisions and many doctors and their professional bodies remain concerned about the limited evidence available on the safety and efficacy of these unlicensed products.

“We would encourage all manufacturers to engage with the UK medicines regulator’s licencing process, which would help provide clinicians with the confidence to use the products, in the same way they use any other licensed medicines that are recommended for use on the NHS.”

Families like the Caldwells are in no doubt about the positive impact medicinal cannabis has had on their children’s conditions, but understand the health service must take every precaution.

Until the system can become more streamlined, the move from the private sector to donate cannabis products has been described as hugely welcome, especially as the cost of living crisis continues to hit UK families.