Linda Millband, joint head of the clinical negligence team at Thompsons Solicitors, looks at the proposed Medical Innovation Bill
The Medical Innovation Bill, or Saatchi Bill as it is commonly known, has received its second reading in the House of Lords and now advances to committee stage. While there is still a long way to go until it may become law, the Bill is causing concern across the political spectrum and throughout the medical profession.
The Bill is presented as being about patients missing out on potentially life-saving treatment because of fear among the medical profession of being pursued for clinical negligence. The Bill's proponents claim that it will benefit patients by bringing about medical advances and providing evidence for further research. However, closer scrutiny suggests that this is not the case.
The Bill will apply to all types of patients, not only those who are nearing the end of their life, desperate to try any type of cure. It opens the door to one doctor making a decision on a patient’s course of treatment that none of their professional colleagues would advocate. If enacted the Bill would protect the doctor regardless of how unnecessary or dangerous or genuinely negligent the treatment was and the patient or their relatives would be left without any redress.
The British Medical Association (BMA), the Medical Defence Union and the NHS Litigation authority have opposed the Bill on the grounds that there is little evidence to support the insinuation that patients are missing out on new types of treatment because doctors fear medical negligence claims. The issue is more likely to be related to a lack of funding for innovative new treatments, or, simply, that the consensus of the medical team treating a patient does not think the treatment is right.
Thompsons Solicitors supports medical research and, having seen their positive impact on clients with very serious conditions, welcomes new courses of treatment, but they cannot be practised at will by lone medical professionals who fancy they know best.
From our extensive work with victims of clinical negligence, we know all about the consequences of sub-standard medical treatment. A Bill that essentially wipes out grounds for negligent claims runs the risk of insulating rogue doctors or surgeons from facing the consequences of acting in an irresponsible manner, it also raises the prospect that they will be able to carry on behaving irresponsibly because there will be no blemish on their record.
Patients put their trust in medical professions, often at a time in their life when they are vulnerable, and if they are treated poorly or subjected to unnecessary treatment, the negligent professional in question should be forced to face up to the consequences.