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Concerns medical innovation bill allows 'reckless practice'

Major concerns about proposed legislation that focuses on redefining clinical negligence ‘could encourage reckless practice’ and should not become law, says the BMA.

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The Medical Innovation Bill, championed by Lord Saatchi, aims to liberate doctors from perceived restrictions, under current medical negligence law, on their ability to use innovative treatments.

But BMA council chair Mark Porter warned while it was ‘vital’ to allow medical research to flourish, the proposed bill was unnecessary and could undermine the safety of the patients it aimed to help.

Dr Porter said: ‘At present, the law on medical negligence is framed to deter clinical interventions that might harm patients out of proportion to the potential benefits.

‘The BMA is not aware of any evidence that shows this has stopped innovative and potentially successful treatments being trialled because of the threat of litigation, as the bill implies. 

False premise

‘More worryingly, by needlessly watering down the law we could put patient safety at risk by removing important protections and potentially encouraging reckless practice.’

Dr Porter added that the bill was based on ‘a false premise’ and should not be passed into law.

He added: ‘If a need is identified, the BMA supports exploring other initiatives that can encourage innovation in a positive fashion, but we don’t believe this should be done at the expense of protecting patients.’

In the BMA’s response to a government consultation on the bill, the association states that well-regulated research and clinical trials are the best mechanisms for the progression of medical science.

Current law works

However, it can still be necessary for doctors to explore non-standard treatments with their patients and innovate outside of a research context,’ it says.

‘Interventions may not be suitable for full-scale clinical trials and not all patients will meet the criteria for enrolment in clinical trials for a new drug or procedure.’

It adds if there is ‘sufficient justification’ to believe an untested or unlicensed treatment could be beneficial, doctors should be confident to pursue these with patients.

The BMA response insists: ‘We have no evidence to suggest that the threat of litigation is a barrier to the provision of innovative treatment of this kind.

‘We strongly question the necessity and desirability of introducing statute to clarify or change the law in this area.’

 Find out more about the Medical Innovation Bill