Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill

26th Aug 2015

Adam Horner, clinical negligence specialist at McHale and Co discusses the Medical Innovation Bill which seems to be gathering pace. The Bill passed the House of Lords in January 2015, but ran out of time in the House of Commons before the general election in May 2015. However, it is now back and returned to the House of Lords in June 2015. If it gets back to the House of Commons, it may well become law, given that it enjoys some government support.

Since the death of Lord Saatchi’s wife to ovarian cancer, Lord Saatchi has campaigned to change the law so that, with consent, doctors can treat patients dying of cancer and other diseases with new and innovative treatments. The Medical Innovation Bill seeks to give legal protection to doctors who want to try different procedures or treatments in treating cancer. Is it right to base legislation on an emotional response to the death of loved ones?

Lord Saatchi asserted that doctors are currently being restricted from conducting innovative treatment as they fear litigation. The top three medical defence bodies being the NHS Litigation Authority, the Medical Defence Union and the British Medical Association have all confirmed that there is no evidence of such a problem. Therefore the Bill seems to be based on a false premise.

Over 100 leading doctors and researchers signed a letter in The Times to opposing Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill last year. The Bill continues to divide opinion between the legal, medical professions and the backers of the Bill itself.

My view is that research is already being carried out across the UK. There are numerous cancer centres such as the Christie uncovering and testing new cancer treatments all the time. Surely before any new treatments come into wider use these are properly tested and fully regulated.

If the bill is passed doctors would no longer require proper consent for ‘innovative’ procedures as they would not need to tell patients that any treatments being received were new and untested. In addition as long as the doctor could argue that the doctor was ‘innovating’ even if the doctor caused injury or death, a medical negligence claim could not be made. The law protects patients from medical negligence and compensated those who have suffered malpractice, there is no need to change the current law.

The letter in the Times was signed by more than 100 of the country’s leading oncologists. These doctors are the ones who treat cancer patient’s day in, day out. Those who have signed the letter say the Bill is not needed or wanted and the fear of litigation has no impact on their ability to innovate. My worry is that the passing of the Bill will encourage irresponsible behaviour. Many believe that if treatment has been refused for patients who have exhausted available treatments this is because the NHS will not fund further treatments or simply because the doctor does not think that further treatment is appropriate or safe to conduct. As well as the threat to patient safety, the Bill will leave patients who have been harmed by negligent treatment without any redress.

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