Saatchi’s PR campaign for ‘medical innovation’ under fire again

A medical negligence expert has warned about the impact of the proposed medical innovation bill.

Suzanne White, a partner in the medical negligence team at Leigh Day and a member of the Stop the Saatchi Bill Alliance, spoke at the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers’ (APIL) autumn conference this week. She believes that the bill will damage patient-doctor relationships and increase, rather than reduce litigation. The president of APIL believes it to be ill-conceived and completely unnecessary, and that it will lead to vulnerable patients taking risks with maverick doctors.

Known as the Saatchi bill, the Medical innovation bill claims to encourage innovation in the treatment of cancers and rare diseases. Lord Saatchi has claimed that lawyers put cash before patients, and believes that current legislation prevents doctors from trying procedures away from standard methods of treatment, as they are restricted by a fear of potential clinical negligence claims. The bill aims to protect them from such claims by allowing them to try ‘innovative’ treatments with the patient’s consent.

Saatchi has executed a successful social media campaign and has a twitter account dedicated to the promotion of the bill; the campaign focuses in part on the idea that medical negligence litigation is the reason why a cure for cancer has not been found. White believes that the bill is likely to win government approval, and that he is winning the PR war.

If implemented however, the bill could have a significant effect on the way that doctors are able to provide treatment to patients; it essentially enables doctors to give treatments which have no support from the relevant medical community. Lobbyists believe that it will not promote responsible innovation – but instead irresponsible experimentation.

APIL has previously criticised the bill, and produced a myth vs reality report in an attempt to fight back against Saatchi’s PR campaign.

A focus of the bill is the benefits it could bring to terminally ill patients, but it makes no distinction between patients; so the law change would in fact affect all patients. Additionally, patients, particularly those who are vulnerable, cannot be expected to fully understand the process of a treatment if it is ‘innovative’ and new.

The bill does not outline whether it is obligatory for a doctor to discuss a treatment with experts or colleagues beforehand, it merely suggests that they do. There is no advice as to how qualified the expert should be, or whether or not to proceed if they disagree.

As well as drawing criticism from lawyers, the bill has been heavily condemned by medical groups. The British Medical Association stated that they strongly believe “that this bill should not become law.” The Royal College of Radiologists say that they “have no evidence that doctors are deterred from innovation by fear of litigation,” and the general Medical Council takes the view that “legislation is both unnecessary and undesirable.”

Additionally, a letter was published this month in The Times newspaper, in which more than 100 of the UK’s leading cancer doctors expressed their dismay at Saatchi’s bill being promoted as hope for patients and their families – when it will make no meaningful difference to the treatment of cancer. They also confirmed that the law around medical negligence neither hinders nor prevents innovation.

Frank O’Connor, Director and Clinical Negligence Specialist at Macks commented ‘The bill is well intentioned but unnecessary and potentially dangerous. It will enable doctors to act without the support of their colleagues and absolve them of responsibility for their actions. The current law in relation to clinical negligence ensures that patients receive responsible treatment.’

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