Saatchi Bill progress

The BMJ recently published a helpful summary of the progress of the Saatchi Bill: BMJ 2015;350:h495.

“The Medical Innovation Bill has been sent to the House of Commons where, despite government support for its principles, there are serious doubts that it will have time to complete all its stages and become law before parliament rises at the end of March for the general election.

The bill, sponsored by the Conservative peer Maurice Saatchi, whose wife died from ovarian cancer, has been criticised by medical bodies, including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, as a threat to the safety of patients. But opponents in the House of Lords have been gradually won round by a series of amendments to impose extra safeguards.

Peers accepted one final amendment on the third reading, put forward by Philip Hunt, a Labour peer and shadow health spokesman who formerly headed the NHS Confederation: a mandatory open register to capture the results of innovative treatments, whether positive or negative. Cancer charities and the Medical Research Council had pushed for a system of collecting and sharing data.

The bill has been much amended since July 2014, when Dan Poulter, a government health minister in the House of Commons, said that the government supported its principles but believed that the bill needed amendment to ensure that it did not “put patients at risk; deter good and responsible innovation; place an undue bureaucratic burden on the National Health Service; or expose doctors to a risk of additional liabilities.”

The pioneering specialist in in vitro fertilisation and Labour peer Robert Winston put down a new amendment to ensure that treatment offered under the bill would “command the respect of a representative body of responsible medical opinion” but withdrew it after the health minister Earl Howe said that it was unnecessary. The bill already required doctors to act responsibly, the minister added, and the government had serious concerns about whether the language of the amendment would cause confusion for doctors and the courts.

Unless the government decided to make time for the bill to go through all its stages in the House of Commons it has no chance of becoming law in the current parliamentary session. Saatchi’s aides are in talks to try to secure the time, and a spokesman said that they were “perhaps naively optimistic” of success.

But only two months remain before the dissolution of parliament on 30 March, and there is vocal opposition in the Commons, most notably from the Conservative chairwoman of the health select committee, the former GP Sarah Wollaston, who has described the bill as a “quack’s charter” that would undermine clinical trials.

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