The British Medical Association has expressed concerns regarding proposed legislation which seeks to redefine the test for negligence when practitioners undertake medical treatment in certain circumstances.
The Medical Innovation Bill, also referred to as the “Saatchi Bill” (thanks to it being championed by Lord Maurice Saatchi), is intended, in its own words, “to encourage responsible innovation in medical treatment (and accordingly to deter innovation which is not responsible)”.
The premise behind the Bill, according to the Secretary of State for Health, is that “…legislation to clarify when medical innovation is responsible will reduce the risks of clinical negligence claims… and with this threat diminished, doctors will be confident to innovate appropriately and responsibly. This innovation could lead to major breakthroughs, such as a cure for cancer”.
The Bill has drawn criticism from lawyers who assert that the existing Bolam test adequately protects patients and medical practitioners, even those receiving or undertaking cutting edge treatment.
However, they have now been joined by the BMA which has spoken out openly and critically in respect of the Bill. The BMA Council Chair, Mark Porter, warned that, while it was “vital” to allow medical research to flourish, the proposed Bill was “unnecessary and could undermine the safety of the patients it aimed to help”.
The BMA say that they were not aware of any evidence that a fear of negligence claims was stifling medical innovation. Rather, they contend that the current law works well. The end of the BMA’s Press Release reads, “We strongly question the necessity and desirability of introducing statute to clarify or change the law in this area”.
Given that the very body responsible for representing doctors does not believe that a change in the law is necessary, one wonders what hope there is for this Bill in the future? However, the Bill is propelled by an extremely slick and powerful marketing juggernaut, and one can’t imagine it going down without a fight.