The Medical Innovation Bill is not (yet) dead

Stories in the press this week suggest that Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill has been “killed off” by a Liberal Democrat veto. This is not strictly correct, as the bill is still due a second reading in the House of Commons on Friday 6th March.

It is likely to be a poorly attended House on Friday with an end of term feel. The danger is that this state of affairs could allow this poorly drafted and unnecessary bill to be enacted. I would urge you to contact your MP to ask him/her to attend and oppose the bill.

Lord Saatchi and his PR team (including the support of the Daily Telegraph) have attempted to stoke up sympathy for their cause by suggesting that the Liberal Democrat “veto” will condemn cancer suffers, telling Nick Clegg that he had “handed down a death sentence to cancer patients”. The Telegraph article begins by saying that the Bill will “allow doctors to test new drugs on seriously ill patients without the fear of being sued.”

All of this implies that the bill applies only to cancer patients or those suffering from serious conditions. This is simply wrong and misleading. As it currently stands, the only exemption to the protection afforded by the bill relates to cosmetic treatment (s1 (7)).

The Bill does not have the support of patients’ organisations such as AVMA, nor does it have the support of many leading doctors and medical organisations. A list of articles criticising the Bill can be found at http://www.stopthesaatchibill.co.uk/media-articles/ and eminent QC Nigel Poole has blogged extensively about the Bill at http://nigelpooleqc.blogspot.co.uk/ . The Welsh Assembly voted 54 to 0 against the Bill.

All those opposing it say that the Bill is unnecessary and potentially harmful to patients. One leading expert suggested that it should be entitled the Medical “Improvisation” Bill because it opens the door to quackery.

Against that background it was very surprising to see that Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary appeared to express support for the Bill on Monday but again, he too fell prey to the Saatchi PR machine when commenting that the Bill offered hope to desperate parents of seriously ill or dying children.

It will be a sad day for our Justice and Health Care systems indeed if this Bill was enacted. In the week in which the Kirkup report into maternity services in the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust was published, it would be a sad and terrible indictment of our legislature to pass a Bill which removes or reduces patient protection.

A final point. It will be a small consolation to anyone seriously injured as a result of “innovative” treatment permitted by the Saatchi Bill that they would probably be unable to afford to sue the practitioners involved anyway because of the huge rise in Court fees being introduced from 9th March 2015. A claim worth over £200,000 will attract a Court fee of £10,000.

What price justice?