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An update on Lord Saatchi's Medical Innovations Bill

View profile for Carla Duprey
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I wrote a blog back in January 2013 regarding the Medical Innovations Bill that has been proposed by Lord Saatchi to Parliament.

This Bill has now arrived in the House of Commons and has therefore reached the second stage of its approval through Parliament.

However, as I have stated previously, I am unsure what (if anything) this Bill will add to the current law in this country and therefore what impact it will have upon developments in medicine.

Lord Saatchi suggests that the law defines medical negligence as a deviation from a ‘standard procedure’ – which he describes as the endless repetition of a failed experiment. As a result, he believes that doctors feel that the safest course of treating a patient is to adhere to established practices and treatments, irrespective of whether these have been unsuccessful.

He therefore states that where there is only one established practice, even if this has been unchanged for forty years and has not had particular success, it would be impossible for a doctor to depart from it with confidence that he or she would not be exposed to litigation.

This is simply not correct.

It is true that, in medical negligence litigation, a doctor’s actions are judged by whether they are reasonable and supported by a responsible body of medical opinion.

If a new treatment or medication was to be available for use, especially in the NHS, then it is likely that it will have been rigorously tested prior to it being available to use on patients. Any doctor that decided to offer this new treatment or medication, assuming that their decision was well reasoned, in the patient’s best interests and with the patient’s informed consent, would be unlikely to be considered unreasonable and would be supported in their actions by medical opinion.

Lord Saatchi states that the Bill (if approved) will help to achieve the Government’s aim of ‘every clinician being a researcher’ and ‘every willing patient being a research patient’. However, I do not feel that there is anything in the current law to prevent this from happening.

Jeremy Hunt’s recent comments at the Annual Conference of the Local Government Association reflect how medical innovation has continually occurred in the UK throughout history and how it continues to occur to date. He stated that the UK was, ‘the country that first cracked what DNA was,…that did the first hip replacement,…that did the first heart, lung and liver transplant…’. He also announced that drug companies were now confident that they would have a cure for dementia by 2020.

I do not believe that the current law prevents developments in medicine. It simply ensures patient safety.

Medical innovation takes time and sometimes requires advances in scientific knowledge and technology. The research also requires significant funding.

I re-iterate my previous comments that Lord Saatchi is to be admired and respected for his determination to take positive steps to help with the fight to find cures for currently untreatable diseases. However, in my opinion, the main obstacle to medical innovation remains the need for major investment into research.

By Carla Twist, clinical negligence solicitor