When Lord Saatchi first mooted his now very controversial Medical Innovation Bill last year, it hardly caused a ripple. Private peers’ Bills rarely get anywhere. However, perhaps because of the combination of Lord Saatchi having friends in high places and his considerable public relations skills and resources, this bizarre Bill still actually might become law. This, in spite of the limited parliamentary time available and the fact the Bill, however well intended, has been denounced as both unnecessary and dangerous by the leading doctors’, patients’ and medico-legal organisations. It is scheduled for 2nd reading in the House of Commons on 27th February. Unless at least one MP is brave and committed enough to be there to say “object” it will be fast-tracked to the next stage without the normal debate, thus making it possible it may become law.
What is the problem? The whole Bill is based on the misconception that it is the threat of patients suing over negligent treatment that inhibits medical innovation and that patients are therefore missing out on treatment that could save their lives. If that were true the Bill would have unanimous support, but it simply is not the case. Don’t take my word for it. The Medical Defence Union, BMA, Medical Protection Society and NHS Litigation Authority all agree there is no evidence that this is so. What’s more, many people agree that the Bill would damage patient safety by making it easier for rogue doctors to prey on the vulnerability of patients. So long as they persuaded the patient to consent, they could not be held to account for experimenting with dangerous treatments in a way that would be defined as negligent by today’s standards. No doubt some less scrupulous members of the pharmaceutical industry would see this as a great opportunity to market untested drugs. All that the Bill does do in effect is prevent a patient damaged by negligent treatment provided, under the cover of being “innovative”, from getting any compensation..
The Bill has been promoted in the media as being a potential life-saver for dying patients. It is nothing of the sort. It is not even restricted to life and death situations where evidence based options have been exhausted, but would apply to non-urgent care. Rarely have I seen such consensus amongst doctors, patients and lawyers that a piece of legislation is so undesirable. How bizarre would it be if it became law? It would only take one MP to ensure it at least receives the normal level of scrutiny and debate. However this is not guaranteed given the 27th is a Friday, when most MPs will be campaigning in their constituencies and may be fearful of being portrayed by the Bill’s supporters, in an election year, as preventing help for dying patients. It is to be hoped that whatever their personal views on the matter MPs will ensure that there is a full and proper debate.