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Medical negligence bill patient safety threat

The BMA has reiterated its concerns about the Medical Innovation Bill, calling for professional guidance ‘rather than rigid statute’.

Maurice SaatchiThe bill, proposed by Lord Saatchi (pictured), had its second reading in the Lords last week.

He said the bill aims to liberate doctors from perceived restrictions under medical negligence law on their ability to use innovative treatments.

However, the BMA feels the bill is unnecessary given a lack of evidence that the current law on medical negligence unduly inhibits innovation.

It also said the bill focuses on the process of clinical decision-making, rather than the patient outcome.

In a briefing paper to peers, the BMA says: ‘In contrast to the current test of medical negligence, [the bill] does not place sufficient emphasis on the validation of a decision from medical [colleagues].’

Professional support

While the bill would require doctors to ‘consult’ with appropriately qualified colleagues, there is no requirement for the doctor to take note of, or have regard for, their views.

The organisation also opposes the requirement that any doctor proposing to depart from an existing range of accepted treatments must notify their responsible officer.

The briefing says: ‘We do not believe that a responsible officer is suitable for this purpose, as it misunderstands that role, significantly extending it beyond what was initially envisaged.’

It is also pointed out that ‘notification’ is not the same thing as agreement or approval and would not provide a safeguard.

The BMA adds: ‘These clauses could potentially allow treatment to be provided, not only in circumstances where medical science is “silent” on a proposed treatment, but also where the treatment would be contrary to medical opinion.’

‘Cowboy doctors’

Other medical organisations have echoed the BMA’s concerns.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said the bill could have unintended adverse consequences. In its own briefing for the debate, it says: ‘Peers need to assure themselves that the bill will not give protection to cowboy doctors who follow the required consultation process but then ignore their colleagues’ advice.’

Two medical defence organisations — the Medical Protection Society and the MDU (Medical Defence Union) — said the current law already allowed responsible innovation.

The MDU stated it had never heard of a case of medical innovation leading to a doctor being sued.

During the debate, Lord Saatchi said: ‘As a result of this change in the law, medical practitioners will be encouraged rather than discouraged to seek improvement to the standard procedure.

‘This bill achieves that in a safe and responsible way.’

He added that the aim is for the bill to become law before the next general election.

 Follow the progress of the Medical Innovation Bill

Arrow Read the BMA briefing on the bill

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