The possible consequences of Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill

Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill reaches the report stage in the House of Lords on 12th December. Its purpose is said to encourage “responsible innovation” in medical treatment and the bill contains a provision that it is not negligent for a doctor to “depart from the existing range of accepted medical treatments for a condition if the decision to do so is taken responsibly.”

Many medical professionals have spoken out against the Bill. As it stands it has the potential for depriving victims of such “innovative” treatment of compensation they would otherwise obtain to which many would feel they are rightly entitled.

Price Slater Gawne’s David Dawson has recently settled a case which could well have been lost had the Saatchi Bill been in force at the time. It is a tragic case which brought heartbreak to the family concerned.

In 2004 our client was in her 4th pregnancy. Sadly she miscarried. To induce labour and delivery of the foetus, the doctors treating her gave her a drug which was not licensed for induction of labour (Misoprostol). The drug caused her to suffer an amniotic fluid embolism which lead to cardio-respiratory arrest and a catastrophic brain injury. She remains in a state of minimal awareness and will require 24 hour care for the rest of her life.

The NHS defended the Claim for 8 years before finally admitting full responsibility in 2012, 3 weeks before trial. The defence was that the use of Misoprostol was not prohibited in this situation. The NHS asserted that it was a “common induction agent in cases of both intra-uterine death and live foetuses”. In other words, the NHS was setting up a defence based upon the long-standing Bolam principle, that the treatment would be considered reasonable by a responsible body of medical opinion.

Had Lord Saatchi’s bill been law at the time, the NHS may well have argued that the use of Misoprostol was the very type of “innovative” treatment that the bill is designed to promote; and that despite the appalling consequences in this case, the doctors would not have been found to have been negligent. Our client’s family would then have been left without the funding and help they so desperately needed to enable her to be properly cared for in a loving environment.

Thankfully however and after protracted settlement negotiations, PSG’s David Dawson was able to secure a final multi-million pound settlement which was approved by the High Court on 4th December 2014, giving the family the security of knowing that the round the clock care provision that our client needs will be provided for the remainder of her life.

The Medical Innovation Bill if passed would become bad law. It will lead to consequences far beyond those which Lord Saatchi intends and could lead to tragedies for victims and their families. The bill should not be enacted.