The government has given its backing to the controversial ‘Saatchi Bill’ after declaring its satisfaction with the latest amendments.
The Medical Innovation Bill, which seeks to give legal protection to doctors who want to try different procedures or treatments in treating cancer, is continuing its passage through parliament and goes to committee stage in the House of Lords next week.
And royal assent appears to be a step nearer following confirmation from the government that it is ‘minded’ to back the change.
The key factor appears to have been Lord Saatchi’s amendment to require at least one other expert to sign off on the treatment or procedure being used. Supporters of the bill say they have always agreed with a ‘strict sign-off process’ in advance of any treatment.
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Innovation is at the heart of modernising the NHS and is essential for improving treatments and finding new cures. Work on the Medical Innovation Bill is ongoing and we are pleased that Lord Saatchi has tabled amendments to the bill to help ensure patient and staff safety.’
But the legislation continues to divide legal and medical opinion, with many fearing the consequences of allowing medics to ‘experiment’ with vulnerable patients.
Nigel Poole QC, a clinical negligence practitioner who has led a campaign opposing the bill, said the law of medical negligence is already settled and well understood by judges, lawyers and doctors.
The law already allows doctors to provide treatment to a patient which is supported by a responsible body of medical opinion, Poole stressed, adding: ‘A doctor is only negligent if no responsible body of medical opinion would support their treatment or if the treatment had no logical or rational justification.’
A spokesman for the Saatchi initiative said the General Medical Council, which represents all UK medical doctors, is ‘increasingly supportive’ of the amendments, although the organisation has yet to publicly endorse them.
Former doctor and now Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston tweeted that ‘serious concerns’ remain with the bill, including a lack of evidence to show the threat of litigation deters innovative treatment.