If I were a Member of Parliament (MP) voting today on the Medical Innovation Bill – otherwise known as the Saatchi Bill – then, at best, I would be abstaining. That sounds like a cop-out but please read on.
The Bill is named after its sponsor in Parliament, Lord Maurice Saatchi whose wife died of ovarian cancer. It would enable doctors to ‘safely provide innovative treatments, with consent, for patients’ when all standard treatments have failed.
There is an impressive lobby behind it including support from the Daily Telegraph plus charities and medical leaders. A petition in favour of it has reached 16,000 signatories so far. A Government consultation on the proposed legislation closes tomorrow. I hope you will respond whatever your opinion.
It is only my deep empathy with the motivations of its patient and carer supporters that prevents me from going through the ‘naye’ lobby at this point in time to be honest.
I suppose what troubles me is this. If the Bill is a serious attempt to boost medical innovation then would you really start here?
There are many things that stand in the way of innovation and the testing of new ideas in the UK. But the inability of doctors to do ‘off-label innovation’ has never appeared that high on any list I have seen. Rather ironically given the arguments of its proponents, one of the significant hurdles to innovation is the innate conservatism if not inertia of the professions. It’s actually one of the reasons why more patients don’t get offered places on on-going clinical trials for instance.
Also, if it is a serious attempt to strengthen patient rights, again would you really start here? Do you really begin on that road by giving more freedom to doctors? And perhaps create a more conducive environment for quackery. I am not sure you do.
The right to better information, access to existing trials, a patient-led consent process, high quality care in research, to the evidence on which your care is based, the results of trials all seem to be much higher on patients’ agendas when I go around the country. So why not start here? Better still why not press for legislation which is a ‘Bill of Rights’ for patients in research?
I think the Bill’s backers truly believe it is about these two things – innovation and patient rights – but as a piece of legislation it comes across as a nut to crack a hammer. And I worry sometimes that the medico-charity lobby is in danger of falling foul of groupthink any time the word ‘innovation’ is put in front of them.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, I am not convinced there is a problem here to be solved by legislation.
I encourage people to read both Sir Michael Rawlins’ article in the BMJ (sorry, paywall) in support of the Bill, but also the responses from other medical leaders and legal experts. You might also look at pieces by Margaret McCartney and Nigel Poole QC .
I suspect another piece of law will not free up innovation or patient rights at all. It will simply add to the coffers of the burgeoning legal industry that already hovers around and increasingly stultifies our health system. Which is the direct opposite of what the Bill’s backers would want.