Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill

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We have previously reported on Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill and here we cover the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill, introduced by Chris Heaton-Harris MP as a Private Members’ Bill, in the Commons, in June 2015. It complements the Saatchi Bill in many respects. Both Bills seek to promote medical innovation and attempt to qualify the legal risks in such treatment. Following its Second Reading in October, the new Bill was considered at Committee Stage on 16 December. Amendments to the Bill were defeated, so it will go to its Report Stage on 29 January 2016 without further amendment.

The relatively new Heaton-Harris Bill aims to promote access to innovative medical treatments and contains two main provisions:

  • to enable the creation of a database of innovative medical treatments.
  • to set out steps which doctors can take in advance of carrying out an innovative treatment, to show that they are acting responsibly (and therefore reduce the legal risk that they may be judged to have acted negligently in departing from more established procedure).

The Bill defines innovative medical treatment as treatment that involves a departure from the existing range of accepted medical treatments for a condition. The Bill would not apply to the use of treatments in research, but supports innovation in the treatment of individual patients while preserving the existing common law safeguards for patients. 
Further, the Bill seeks to offer clarity for doctors in advance of offering innovative treatment about the steps that they need to take to demonstrate that the decision to innovate was taken responsibly, rather than requiring doctors to wait for this to be determined by a court at a later date if their actions are challenged.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer has said that she supports the Bill and Sir Bruce Keogh, National Medical Director of the NHS Commissioning Board has said that he is absolutely sure that the Bill is safe in terms of patient safety. In contrast, The British Medical Association, The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and The Royal College of Surgeons have made clear that they believe there is no evidence that the threat of legal action is currently holding back innovation by doctors.

The Commons Committee were concerned whether a balance could be drawn to ensure patient safety and provide clarity to doctors, but in doing so ensuring that the proposed legislation would not result in more litigation. It is clear is that the Bill will face a bumpy path in Parliament. We will provide further details in February 2016.

About the Author

Jef Mitchell is a consultant at BLM and former Chief Claims Officer at the Ministry of Defence where he regularly briefed Ministers on claims issues and risk management. He now helps to lead the firm’s Policy and Government Affairs work with Alistair Kinley preparing submissions and supporting evidence for consultations and reform proposals, in addition to liaising with government departments and regulators on key issues and consultations affecting the firm and its clients. Jef is also an accredited mediator.

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