Short shrift for Saatchi spin-off

We’ve been here beforeand, remarkably, here we are again. The weight of opposition to the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill leaves no room for misunderstanding ahead of the second reading in the Commons.  

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The British Medical Association, Patients Association, AvMA, Royal College of Surgeons, Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and now the Association of Medical Research Charities and Medical Research Council are the latest to make their positions absolutely clear on the Bill, due its second reading in the House of Commons 16th October.

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  • The Royal College of Surgeons  ‘unequivocally oppose’ the Bill. It is unnecessary with no evidence that any part of it is required. It misunderstands the doctor-patient relationship and could provide justification for unethical treatment. 

  • The RCPCH could not present a clearer warning of the ‘sinister piece of draft legislation’ lurking ‘which, if passed, will have detrimental effects on the wellbeing of children’.       ‘The Bill places patients – in particular infants, children and young people – at grave risk’, writes President Professor Modi.     The Bill will encourage irresponsible experimentation.  Families, already at heightened susceptibility…will be prey to at worst quackery and at best to the possibly strongly held but inadequately justified convictions of medical practitioners who do not know how, or do not wish, to test treatments objectively.’          ‘What’s more, the Bill’s stated purpose of enabling practitioners to employ innovative treatments without fear of litigation is completely unfounded.’    The Bill ‘will set back’ progress in bringing innovation into the care of sick children through clinical research, ‘legal and public confusion’ will ensue, efforts to improve understanding will suffer and support for research to improve the care of children will be at risk.’
  • The AMRC, representing 137 charities, and its members engaged in talks with Mr Heaton-Harris MP and communicated their concerns about the proposed draft. The organisation has now issued a formal briefing against the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill, urging MPs to oppose the Bill as it is unnecessary and may adversely impact on patients and medical research.  Key members united as signatories to this briefing include Cancer Research UK, British Heart Foundation, MND Association, cancer charity Bloodies, the Academy of Medical Sciences, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Anthony Nolan, Arthritis Research UK, Ataxia UK, GI and liver disease charity CORE, The Encephalitis Society, The Brain Tumour Charity, Parkinson’s UK, Prostate Cancer UK, the Wellcome Trust, the British Pain Society, the Society for Endocrinology, British Orthopaedic Association, Autistica, Fight for Sight, Tuberous Sclerosis Association, Pelican Cancer Foundation, Pharmacy Research UK, and Genetic Alliance UK. 
  • The AoMRC , the representative body for the 16 Medical Royal Colleges, express ‘real concerns that the Bill will have unintended adverse consequences’, that it is ‘based on a false assumption’ with a ‘ false and potentially dangerous’ distinction between innovation and research.
  • The BMA firmly restate their position that the Bill is ‘unnecessary’, ‘counterproductive and…not based on any felt need from the medical profession.’  Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 10.45.02They are clear that such ‘legislative proposals add nothing of value to the current law – rather, they increase bureaucracy and could create confusion, which may have implications for patient safety’.  Strong concerns are also expressed regarding a database.  ‘There are no plans for the information and innovative treatments to be quality assessed or peer reviewed. The inclusion of events on a database may give the impression that they are approved or have been given some form of endorsement for use again. This may lead to the inappropriate use of a treatment. Further it is not clear what safeguards will be in place ensure that all patient data is anonymised.’
  • The Medical Research Council ‘believe this Bill does not tackle the real barriers to adoption of medical innovation that need to be addressed, and may lead to unintended consequences’.
  • Patient safety and justice charity AvMA state that the Bill is ‘fraught with unintended and dangerous consequences’. It ‘would threaten patient safety’, fails to address anything that would benefit doctors or patients, and ‘as well as being based on a false premise, the Bill would actually make it harder to provide innovative treatment by creating a confusing, bureaucratic set of rules set in law’.
  • Conservative MP, GP and Health Select Committee Chair Dr Sarah Wollaston has spoken out to say that the rehash of what she previously termed the ‘Medical Anecdote Bill’ is still half-baked and dangerously rewarmed – ‘hopefully MPs will listen to all the serious concerns’. 
  • While academics note that it ‘does not help patients at all’.

Novel use of procedures to avoid scrutiny

Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill (more properly titled the unfounded novel use, irresponsible human experimentation and removal of redress Bill) was not, in the end, rushed through in the last parliament, despite the best attempts of Lord Saatchi to use his weight and talents to create extra time and special rules. In his shock that this, sanctioned by the conservatives, was not going to work out, he proclaimed that Nick Clegg was a nasty murderous sort with blood on his hands, and had handed down a death sentence to patients.

All Nick et al had done was say, hang on a minute – medical organisations, patient charities and medical defence orgs don’t want the Bill, patient safety experts and legal experts are up in arms abut the Bill, and Wales unanimously condemned it, and were quite horrified by it. Perhaps we shouldn’t rush this dangerous and widely condemned draft legislation in these circumstances and instead it warrants detailed scrutiny, at best, and certainly not to be pushed through in this cavalier fashion because of who Saatchi is how much power he wields or how much he donates.

Who he is does not make it right to risk (limitless) patients’ lives, safety, dignity and their quality of life.

Saatchi’s crew then went flat out trying to pressure the Lib Dems to cave in to the Conservative deal to allow this monster of a danger to be passed without any scrutiny by deploying the tried and tested setting up of petitions and shouting in the press at a crucial pinch point before the election. Thankfully the Lib Dems had more integrity, and some very sensible MPs who understood science. (Though Sarah Wollaston is a stalwart of sense, she has not been listened to by her own party – and has found herself surrounded by some extraordinarily inept characters.)

At the HealthWatch public debate on the Bill held at King’s College London in March, Nigel Poole QC and Nick Ross spelled out the problems with irrefutable clarity and sense.

Alas clarity, sense, science and integrity are being challenged once more by the undead Bill, raised from the ground and re-entering the House of Lords on the 8th June.

Worse still, the attempt to limit scrutiny and avert the gaze of noble Lords who may know what they are talking about has gone to new lengths. Lord Saatchi has given notice to the House to agree a motion that Standing Order 46 (no two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with, allowing the Bill, which would need to be identical to that which left the Lords, to career straight through to the Commons without any stages of examination by learned peers, and be pushed through on the nod. If there’s one thing we need, it is proper scrutiny, particularly in light of the overwhelming opposition to the Bill from those who know what they are talking about, including those in parliament and experts in patient safety such as Sir Francis QC and Sir Ian Kennedy QC.

More info: Stop the Saatchi Bill

politics.co.uk and openDemocracy