The Medical Defence Union has followed doctors and clinical negligence lawyers in opposing a bill that removes the threat of litigation for ‘innovation’ in medicine.
The government’s consultation on the Medical Innovation Bill – proposed by Conservative peer Lord Saatchi – closes today, with health secretary Jeremy Hunt having promised to do ‘what is needed’ to prevent barriers in cancer treatment.
The legislation has divided opinion in the medical and legal professions, with many doctors and lawyers warning of its consequences but former lord chief justice Lord Woolf saying he supports the change.
The MDU, which represents half of all UK doctors, says the bill has the potential to confuse rather than clarify doctors’ legal standing.
Dr Michael Devlin, head of professional standards and liaison, said: ‘Doctors thinking of using a new approach or procedure would have to consider the effect of the bill, which would be an additional process.
‘Calls to our 24-hour advice line from doctors about innovation, show that doctors are not being deterred from innovating.’
The MDU said the current legal position is clear enough, with doctors need not fearing litigation if they put appropriate safeguards in place and there are good reasons from departing from accepted practice.
Clinical negligence barrister Nigel Poole QC, from Kings Chambers, plans to issue a statement to the national press and has encouraged other lawyers to endorse it.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, Action against Medical Accidents and the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers have all endorsed the statement.
Poole said the bill is ‘well intentioned but fundamentally flawed’, adding: ‘Current clinical negligence law provides redress to patients who have suffered harm as a result of treatment which would not be supported by any responsible body of medical opinion.
‘This bill seeks to remove that right of redress where a doctor has taken a decision to treat in what the bill defines as a “responsible” manner, even when no other doctor would support the treatment actually given.’
Dr Ranj Singh, medical expert on ITV’s This Morning, has said he is opposed to the current legislation, tweeting: ‘To people who think I support the #SaatchiBill… I DON’T. Not in its current form. It’s well-intentioned but the wording needs work.’
But Lord Woolf, writing in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, gave his support to the bill and urged readers to respond positively to the consultation. ‘At the moment, the doctor’s hands are tied – by concerns about professional reputation and potential negligence claims,’ he said.
‘There should not be a culture in our hospitals of risk-taking with patients’ lives. But what is covered in these plans is a very specific set of exceptional circumstances, where there are potential benefits to allowing doctors to put their heads above the parapet.’
A spokesman for Lord Saatchi said 16,000 patients, doctors, researchers, judges and lawyers have come out in favour of the bill.
He stressed that the Bolam test, which lays down rules for assessing the appropriate standard of reasonable care, will not be affected by the bill.
‘In effect, the bill will bring forward the Bolam test to a clinical setting, rather than the doctor having to rely on a protracted and stressful legal case to clear his/her name.’