The next reading of Lord Saatchi’s controversial Medical Innovation Bill in the House of Commons is on 27 February 2015 following a minor amendment in January 2015 by the House of Lords. The changes that have been incorporated do nothing to allay concerns that the Bill is both unnecessary and risks eroding patient safety.
Lord Saatchi’s premise is that innovation in healthcare is being stifled because doctors fear claims of negligence if they treat patients in a way that is not accepted for that patient's condition. He therefore proposed a Bill to encourage medical innovation and to reduce the likelihood that doctors who depart from existing and accepted treatments will face negligence claims if their decisions are taken responsibly.
Many have voiced concern that Lord Saatchi's premise is fundamentally flawed and that the Bill is unnecessary as it adds nothing to existing law. Some go further saying that the Bill introduces significant risks to patient safety and by-passes the existing and stringent safeguards required in clinical trials for new medicines and techniques to be offered to patients. Those with terminal conditions are of particular concern as they may agree to untested treatment without evidence of its potential benefits compared to established methods of care if they are desperate.
Assessing the Bill's recent progress, Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team, comments: "Although there are widespread concerns that Lord Saatchi's Bill adds nothing to the existing law, it introduces scope to erode patient safety by avoiding a claim in negligence where the provisions of the Bill are met. Those provisions do not provide sufficient protection to patients.
"Within the last two weeks, the Welsh Assembly has roundly rejected Lord Saatchi's Bill. Assembly members across the political spectrum were united in voting against the implementation of this Bill in Wales. They highlighted a dearth of evidence to support Lord Saatchi's premise that clinical innovation is prevented by doctors' fears of negligence claims. Assembly Members described the Bill as unnecessary and undesirable, offering fewer guarantees and protections than currently exist in Common Law.
"We would urge their colleagues in Westminster to scrutinize the Bill equally robustly on its Second Reading later this month. There is no sound reason for this Bill to be enacted and it poses a threat to patient safety. If MPs support it, then patients will be left only with the hope that it runs out of Parliamentary time.