Medical Innovation Bill – does it encourage medical irresponsible experimentation?

Doctors who experiment in their surgical procedures should be immune from any medical negligence claim – at least that’s the theory, according to a new bill introduced by Conservative peer Lord Saatchi.

The bill, which appears to be limited towards medical innovation in the field of cancer, was launched by the peer after, very sadly, he lost his wife to the disease last year.

Whilst I’m all in favour of any attempt we can find to beat cancer – on a personal note I lost both of my parents to the disease many years ago – I do wonder if Lord Saatchi’s grief has blinded himself to basic medical realities. New and innovative approaches to surgery sound great in theory – but there have to be controls. You only have to look at the excellent Dr Foster website, which was set up to publicise information about successful [ like the Whittington Hospital NHS Trust] and failing hospitals [ like Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester] and to encourage the use of good practice, to see that many hospitals, simply fail to take sufficient care when dealing with patients. Frankly, some hospitals put their patients unnecessarily at risk by shoddy practice – and that’s with the threat of medical negligence claims. Just imagine what kind of weird and wonderful techniques could be adopted under Lord Saatchi’s bill – just because one maverick doctor has a bright idea, however well intentioned he may be, doesn’t mean it is a safe way of treating with patients.

To be frank, his admission that his bill would widen the definition of ‘standard procedure’ to cover new and untested techniques seems fatally flawed. In my personal experience, I’m aware of a number of senior surgeons at a very well regarded NHS hospital who were either hurried into early retirement or demoted due to this kind of unregulated experimentation – though the scandal never broke – it was hushed up. Letting experimental procedures loose on cancer victims – who are in such a vulnerable and desperate position is a recipe for disaster.

Patients lives should not be put unnecessarily at risk – let’s hope that his bill, however well-intentioned, fails.