Stop the Saatchi Bill

Driven by an extraordinary two-year PR campaign on social media and a supportive newspaper partner, this all started as Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill, metamorphosed through several versions, and was resurrected under a new name by Chris Heaton-Harris, before finally clearing its last hurdle in the Lords this week to become the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Act.
Pretty much the only thing they share is the word 'Innovation' in the title.

One day, it may be possible for politicians to ask the people who actually work in the medical field: what are the problems you face, and how can we help you overcome them?

One day, politicians may actually listen to the answers they receive, and thus try to tackle genuine problems rather than imagined ones.

One day, politicians, medics, researchers, lawyers, patient groups, charities, and the public, may work together to overcome the barriers to the development and provision of new treatments.

But it is not this day.

Read more: Not this day

Prof Baum’s concerns about the Saatchi Bill

Prof Michael Baum has written to his MP to express his concerns about the Saatchi Bill. Will you join him?

Dear Mike,

I’m deeply concerned about the Saatchi bill.

I have been involved in cancer research for 45 years and through challenging dogma have been responsible for many innovations that have improved the length and quality of life of countless women with breast cancer. Never once in this period have I felt intimidated by the threat of litigation and amongst all my network of cancer researchers in the UK have I learnt of a single case.

Therefore the bill is based on a false premise and should never had been supported by the government.

We must never forget that in the real world there are many patients we can’t cure but none that we can’t hurt. The very idea that there are “treatments” out there for which the patient has nothing to lose, is also a myth. All treatments have side effects and if untested not only are we ignorant of their efficacy but also of their toxicity. When we, the experts, have run out of options and judge that care rather than cure is in the best interest of the patient, it is cruel as well as foolish to believe that some maverick might have a magic potion. Symptom control by adequate treatment of pain, nausea, pruritis and cachexia together with the spiritual support of a priest, mullah or rabbi, can comfort the dying and in so doing, as a laudable side effect, prolong life. By not recognising these facts the patient might be condemned to spend their last months in hospital, being denied the right of a dignified death in the company of their loved ones and in the comfort of their own home.

The other alarming thought that occurs to me is that there is no clear outcome measure described in the bill to help judge its success or whether it should be revoked as a result of tragic unintended consequences. All I can see in the future is an ever increasing number of anecdotes that will reinforce the prejudices of the authors of the bill. “The patient was given only six months to live, took the pill and lived a whole year!” “The patient was given only six months to live took the pill and died in 4 months. Sad, but if only she had been treated earlier she would have been cured but the bigoted medical establishment has ignored our claims.”

There are no patients who are “given six months to live”; this is an urban myth and frequently used to justify quack cancer cures. The patients in question might indeed have a MEDIAN expectation of life of six months but by chance alone some will live for one or two years and these outliers are the ones upon which the myths are based and this is why we need controlled trials rather uncontrolled human experimentation that on balance of probability will impair the quality of their passing.

Please Mike, let me come and talk to you about this in greater depth.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Baum

Professor emeritus of surgery and visiting professor of medical humanities

UCL

If you do write to your MP or a Lord, please let us know what he or she says in reply.