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

Time to call a halt

We welcome the publication today of a summary of the responses to the official Department of Health consultation on the Medical Innovation Bill (the so-called Saatchi Bill). Although this is only a summary of the responses rather than a full report analysis, it still clearly highlights major problems with the proposed legislation.

The Saatchi campaign has attempted to push through this Bill without waiting for this consultation to be published. Now we can see why they have tried to avoid even acknowledging it had not been completed, as the report published today entirely undermines the basis for the Bill.

We can see that a large body of respondents were opposed to the Bill and said its reasoning was mistaken. These include major medical, legal and patient organisations, along with many medical charities, including the British Medical Association, the General Medical Council, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, the The Royal College of Physicians, the Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust, the Royal College of Radiologists, the Medical Defence Union, the NHS Litigation AuthorityCancer Research UK, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and many more.

NICE searched for evidence of the fear of litigation preventing innovation, and found none.

Most of the support for the Bill came from an on-line petition that was seriously flawed, and respondents to this petition may have seen neither the draft Bill nor the accompanying notes.

Lord Saatchi continues to claim the law currently says that a doctor who deviates from ‘standard care’ is negligent, and that the law therefore prevents innovation. This is clearly false, and even his own campaign team now admits this claim is not true. Doctors actually innovate all the time, and the Saatchi campaign have failed to present a single example of responsible innovation being prevented by the current law.

The Saatchi campaign has repeatedly claimed that the Bill promotes only responsible innovation, and protects patients from being mistreated. They have amended the Bill, and amended it, and amended it again, each time claiming this problem is now solved, while never actually admitting it was ever a problem in the first place. How can the Saatchi Bill team claim to have solved a problem they don’t even accept exists? It remains a genuine problem that the Bill can be used to protect a doctor who carries out dangerous and irresponsible treatments, as the Department of Health themselves also make clear.

Lord Saatchi has toured medical organisations to tout this Bill. They have tried to explain to him that he has misunderstood the medical profession and the law, to no avail. He claims that the Bill will lead to a cure for cancer. It will not, but it may well lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering.

All the problems raised by respondents to the consultation remain unsolved despite the Bill’s numerous rewrites. As the Department of Health themselves report in their summary, “Some of the statements made by supporters of the Bill (although not by DH) during the consultation period were misleading but received much publicity.” We hope that now this summary has been published it will allow us to have a clear and open debate about this Bill, free of the campaign’s empty rhetoric.

This is Lord Saatchi’s opportunity to — at long last — listen to the critics. This Bill, driven forward by PR rather than evidence, “carries a huge threat to patients”, as the Patients Association have said.

It is now time to call a halt.