Legislation aimed at encouraging medical innovation by lifting the threat of litigation has cleared its first major parliamentary stage.
The Medical Innovation Bill, proposed by Conservative peer Lord Saatchi, passed through the House of Lords following a late amendment on Friday.
The bill now passes to the House of Commons, but with no date set for its first reading there remains serious doubt if it will be passed before the general election.
Parliament is due to be dissolved on 30 March ahead of the election on 7 May, bringing to an end nearly all parliamentary business.
The bill aims to remove the threat of litigation for doctors innovating in the treatment of patients. Saatchi, whose wife died from cancer, says it will lift a burden from practitioners while maintaining safeguards to protect patient safety. But opponents from both the legal and medical professions insist the legislation will encourage reckless treatment and put sufferers at risk.
On Friday, the government rejected a proposed amendment from Labour peer and medical scientist Lord Winston.
He had attempted to insert a clause requiring the proposed experimental treatment to ‘command the respect of a representative body of responsible medical opinion’ and place an onus on the person responsible for ensuring the medical treatment was reasonable.
‘Essentially, there would be a legal onus, a responsibility, for that adviser to give advice which was regarded as serious and acceptable to a broad body of medical opinion in that field,’ he said. ‘There is a risk of mavericks operating without that control. This is a very shocking issue.’
Saatchi himself supported the amendment, saying it would provide clarity and certainty about the effect of the bill.
But health minister Earl Howe said the clause was not necessary and that doctors would already be required by the bill to take a full account of medical opinion.
He added: ‘A doctor can fully expect a court to scrutinise closely how they have taken account of those views and consider whether they had acted on the views in a responsible way.’
An amendment by Lord Hunt, to establish a register that could record uses of the legislation, was agreed.
The government has already said it is ‘minded’ to support the bill after a series of changes by Saatchi to provide extra safeguards.