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

Report and Round Table Revelations

The Medical Innovation Bill — dubbed the Medical Anecdote Bill by Dr Sarah Wollaston in her adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday — reaches Report Stage in the House of Lords tomorrow.

Yet an astounding revelation today undermines the whole basis for the Bill.

Writing in the Telegraph (the Bill’s media partner) in April, one of the Bill’s high-profile supporters, Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice and Master of the Rolls, stated:

What I do know about, from sitting as a judge, are the cases where doctors are sued for negligence because they have innovated in the treatment they offer, rather than following generally-accepted medical standards.

Seeing these cases as crucial to the Bill, doctor and solicitor Dr Anthony Barton wrote to Lord Woolf to ask him about them. As revealed by the Solicitors Journal today, his answer was extraordinary:

In the time available, I cannot find references to the cases I had in mind when I wrote the article for The Telegraph. I am afraid that it is most unlikely that I will be able to do so even if I had more time but I apologise and have to ask you to accept my recollection, which is of cases I was involved in very many years ago.

The best Lord Woolf can do is ask that we accept his recollection that there were some cases, lost somewhere in the distant mists of time.

The burden of proof lies with the Bill’s PR team to provide the evidence for their assertion, but they have spectacularly failed to come up with any good evidence that would substantiate the underlying premise of their much-hyped Bill.

Indeed, the vast majority of the professional medical bodies, research organisations, lawyers, etc have also stated that they have no evidence that fear of litigation has deterred doctors from innovating. The Bill is also opposed by over 100 of the UK’s leading cancer specialists.

This is not good enough and can never be good enough for a Bill that will create an unworkable legal and ethical minefield for doctors and a bonanza for lawyers.

Round table

One of the ‘concessions’ made by Lord Saatchi at the Committee Stage was that he would hold a meeting before Report so that the Bill could be discussed “with all those Peers who have an interest in the matters before us today”.

The Bill’s PR team say a meeting took place on 20 November, but they have not made public who attended, despite having been asked on numerous occasions. So we have no idea whether the serious concerns over the Bill were raised, never mind discussed and resolved, or whether it was just a nice friendly chat between supportive Lords.

But what we do know is that there is no official record of this meeting having taken place in the House of Lords. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request for information about the meeting, we have been told that there is no record of it as a Formal Committee meeting and that the FOIA officer “searched [their] room bookings information using the information [we] supplied and hold no relevant entries for this date referring to “the Medical Innovation Bill” or booked by Lord Saatchi.”

Their only suggestion was that a meeting may have been held “in [a Lord’s] offices, in cafes and in other areas of the Estate”.

Maybe it was a quiet chat over coffee, perhaps similar to that envisioned for a doctor when seeking to “obtain the views of one or more appropriately qualified doctors in relation to the proposed treatment” under the Bill?

We may never know who attended this meeting nor whether there were any dissenting voices there. Unless, that is, the Bill’s PR team want to admit who was there and what was discussed?

Yet more amendments

Another swath of amendments were published over night.

We’ve already had 39 of them at the Committee Stage; today sees another 15. All for what was little more than a one-page Bill when first introduced.

However, we now have:

The current version of the Bill, as will be presented to the House of Lords tomorrow

The marshalled list of amendment to be moved tomorrow

Some of these amendments are wide-ranging but we will need to see what happens tomorrow.

The debate, starting at 10am, can be watched here.

HoL Report Stage