The new incarnation of the Saatchi bill to allow doctors to innovate without fear of negligence actions has continued its progress through parliament – but the legislation continues to divide opinion among MPs.
The Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday and will now go to committee stage.
The proposed legislation is a private members’ bill sponsored by Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris (pictured). Its predecessor, the Medical Innovation Bill ran out of parliamentary time before the general election in May.
Lord Saatchi has said he was not part of the process of drafting the new bill but will shepherd it through the House of Lords if asked.
The proposals aims to give permissive power to the secretary of state for health to create a database of medically innovative treatments, and to confirm in legislation that a doctor will not be negligence when departing from standard practice, if they have acted responsibly in treating seriously ill patients.
Heaton-Harris said: ‘The bill sets out a series of steps that doctors can take to evidence that they have acted responsibly, including seeking support from a ‘responsible body’ of medical opinion, thus reflecting the current common law Bolam test as closely as possible.
‘The bill does not replace the common law test, but does provide a way for doctors to evidence they have acted responsibly when innovating, prior to the point of treatment, increasing a doctors confidence to suggest an innovative treatment.’
In the Commons debate on second reading, Heaton-Harris said registration of the results of an innovative treatment will ensure doctors learn from mistakes or spread instances of good practice.
He told MPs the bill will supplement existing law, not replace it, and will not stop a doctor being sued for clinical negligence.
‘It simply allows a registered medical practitioner to demonstrate what their actions were and with whom they consulted,’ he said.
‘It gives a doctor that extra bit of confidence that they can prove that what they are doing is responsible and therefore not negligent.’
Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander pointed out that legislation is not needed to set up a register of innovative treatments.
She added that rather than promote innovation the bill risks confusing the situation and preventing doctors from acting to help a seriously ill patient.
‘I’m worried that the impact of this bill would be to muddy the water for doctors who wish to innovate about the legal route to do so.
‘I am worried it will reduce participation in clinical trials. And I am worried that it could remove legal redress for a patient with a genuine negligence claim.’
Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Commons health committee, said there is a danger of confusing the existing legal framework.
She added: ‘We need to be very careful about what we mean by innovation, and to accept that there are also very dangerous innovations.
‘If, as a result of this well-intentioned bill, we inadvertently end up with people being, in effect, experimented on by irresponsible doctors who are able to get off scot-free, we will have to come back to this place and amend it.’