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Innovation bill could encourage ‘cowboy’ doctors

Last month saw the House of Lords discuss and progress the so-called ‘Saatchi Bill’ – despite opposition from medical and legal groups over worries about patient safety.

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7 July 2014 / by Jonathan White / legal-blog

Last month saw the House of Lords discuss and progress the so-called ‘Saatchi Bill’ – despite opposition from medical and legal groups.

The bill aims to encourage doctors and other medical professionals to innovate in medical treatment without the fear of litigation were something to go wrong.

But despite the bill’s continued progress through parliament, opposition has been mounting.

First, there is the question of whether the proposed reforms are needed.

According to the Medical Defence Union, which is responsible for providing professional indemnity insurance to around half of UK doctors, no negligence claims relating to innovative treatments have been brought to its attention.

Even the NHS Litigation Authority, the body that would be in the front line of managing any cases brought against doctors that tried to innovate treatments, has voiced concerns.

Second, there is the more serious matter of the impact on patient safety.

Several bodies representing the medical profession have voiced their concerns that the bill could actually reduce patient safety, envisioning a situation where ‘cowboy’ doctors could experiment on their patients even when faced with opposition from their peers.

“Driven by a slick social media campaign”, says The Guardian, “the bill seems specifically written to protect a doctor who makes a decision that none of their professional colleagues would support.”

The NHS Litigation Authority also commented on patient safety, arguing in its response to the government’s consultation that the bill would place “too great an emphasis upon the opinion of the individual doctor involved”.

The British Medical Association (BMA) is another leading body which has expressed serious concerns, as is the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which warned of ‘cowboy’ doctors.

The way to finding the cure to cancer, or other serious diseases, should not simply be paved with good intentions. Instead it should be characterised by robust medical research, as well as checks and balances in procedures that always put patient safety first. This would not seem to be the case with the Saatchi Bill.

Rather than introducing another bill for which there is no real need and which could end up making things worse, the government should focus on combating medical negligence. It should also enforce stronger safeguards to protect vulnerable groups currently left with few protections, such as infants and children as well as mesothelioma victims.

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