LibLink: Norman Lamb MP: Why we had to axe Lord Saatchi’s bill and think again

Last month, Dominic Nutt, one of the advocates of Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovations Bill, argued on this site in our Independent View slot that the Bill should be given Commons time for debate.

So what’s happened since then? Well, the Bill will make no further progress after the intervention of Liberal Democrat Ministers. Norman Lamb wrote a sensitively worded article for the Telegraph last week where he showed empathy for those with serious life-threatening illnesses, but said that he couldn’t allow them to potentially be preyed upon by unscrupulous people:

We must do everything we can to ensure patients get access to the best possible treatments, including removing any unnecessary barriers to innovation

So when I first heard about Lord Saatchi’s Medical Innovation Bill I was immediately attracted to its purpose.

We must seek to ensure that doctors are confident that they are able to try innovative treatments within a clear framework which protects patient safety and safeguards them from litigation.

I have enormous sympathy for all those who have been through the awful experience of not being offered treatment which they believe might offer a chance of survival or of improving their condition.

But getting the law right in this area is incredibly important. We have to avoid the risk of unintended consequences.

The Liberal Democrats have listened to the concerns of patient organisations, research charities, legal bodies, royal colleges and medical unions who have told us the Bill in its current form could actually put patient safety at risk.

But there is hope that some new measures will emerge from a consultation process which should be completed by the Autumn.

The risk is that some highly vulnerable people, desperate for a chance of recovery or remission, could be easy prey for exploitation by the few unscrupulous practitioners who peddle false hope.

So, faced with this level of concern, but recognising the profound importance of innovation and of saving lives, the best way to proceed is surely to appoint an eminent person examine what the barriers to innovation really are and how best to overcome them.

I am not interested in pushing this into the long grass. It should be given priority but we must get it right.

Such an examination of the issue should involve patient organisations, legal bodies, royal colleges and medical unions.

This review could then lead to draft legislation, if it is deemed necessary, going through full parliamentary scrutiny later this year.

So Norman is not saying “not ever”, he’s saying “not this way right now”. You can read his whole article here.


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  • The aims of saatchi’s bill are sensible and logical. Pancreatic Cancer’s survival rate has stayed static at 2% for over 40 years. Many rarer cancers still receive treatments that are 30 years old. It’s vital that Doctors are giving the opportunity to innovate.

    Having said that I do recognise Lamb’s concerns regarding patient exploitation which are important. My criticism is that I cannot believe that we can’t have the Saatchi ethos that protects patients from exploitation. The health department should have worked with Saatchi and come up with a bill that achieves the goals and aspirations oof hhis original bill.

    One completely separate point – How is it that we are once again announcing bad news? Jeremy Hunt is the health Minister – why isn’t he killing the bill. How on earth did a Question Time audience member get the impression that it’s our fault alone – we are in a coalition Government . If we are ever inn coalition again we’ve got to be much more savvy.

  • Catherine Royce 10th Mar '15 - 2:09pm

    We are approaching this the wrong way. There is already a system in place by which patients can receive unlicenced medicines. This is part of the duty of pharmaceutical companies engaged in clinical research of potential new treatments and needs to remain their responsibility, we are talking about unlicenced, ie unproven treatments for which someone has to be responsible, and at the moment that responsibility rests with the company developing the treatment.
    If a patient has been in a clinical trial they can continue to receive any treatment from which they have derived benefit, this is specified in the Declaration of Helsinki which all clinical trials and all pharmaceutical research companies conform to. Doctors should not be advocating exposing patients to experimental drugs which have not gone through this process.
    If the patient not been a participant in a clinical trial which when completed and reported shows promise for a new treatmnet, their treating physician can apply to the company for access to the drug, this is called ‘named patient’ or ‘compassionate need’ basis and covers the patient who has run out of options for licenced treatments. There is certainly scope to improve this system, but finally, we need to accept that some diseases in some patients are untreatable, and that those patients have reached the end of the road of therapeutic possibility.

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