Lord Saatchi’s controversial Medical Innovation Bill which was introduced but not passed before Parliament was dissolved earlier this year has been resurrected in the form of the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill.
Although many had hoped that the General Election would see an end to the matter, it has now had its second reading in the House of Commons and will now pass to committee stage for further scrutiny. This latest incarnation is a private members' bill which, although Lord Saatchi has not been involved, retains many of the more concerning aspects of its predecessor.
The premise of the Bill continues to be that innovation in healthcare is stifled by doctors' fear of being sued for treating patients in a way that is not recognised and accepted for that patient's condition. The Bill sets out certain steps that doctors may take to demonstrate that they have acted responsibly, including seeking support from a responsible body of medical opinion. It would give the Secretary of State for Health power to introduce a registration process for treatments regarded as medically innovative to be recorded, demonstrating what steps are being taken and who was consulted in support.
Fundamentally, however, little has changed. Many have voiced concerns that the Bill is still unnecessary and adds nothing to existing law. Worse, it has the potential to confuse the legal framework, introducing significant risks to patient safety and by-passing the existing safeguards required in clinical trials for new medicines and techniques. Those made vulnerable by terminal conditions are of particular concern.
Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team, comments: "As with Lord Saatchi’s original Bill, the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill adds nothing to the existing law but does threaten to erode patient safety by avoiding a claim in negligence where the provisions of the Bill are met. It remains the case that the Bill fails to provide sufficient protection to patients.
"Numerous respected medical, legal and other bodies have voiced their concerns over and opposition to this Bill as proposed. There is a fundamental lack of evidence to support the premise that clinical innovation is being hampered by doctors' fears of negligence claims or of any need for legislation that offers fewer safeguards than the current law. It is to be hoped that Parliamentary scrutiny at the Committee stage exposes the flawed reasoning in this Bill that threatens patient safety."
Penningtons Manches’ previous commentary on the Bill can be read here.