Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Saatchi Medical Innovation Bill - why this matters to you

On Monday, I had hoped to be walking the halls of Westminster on my way to a meeting in one of the House of Commons' committee rooms. I'd been invited by Liz Scarff who had also organised the Marie Curie campaign I was involved with earlier this year, but sadly I couldn't attend for personal reasons. However, I accepted an invitation to join in via my first ever Google+ hangout instead (it's just like a Skype call with multiple participants).  So after a bit of a kerfuffle where I couldn't find the camera to attach to the pc (it had fallen down the back) and not really knowing what I was doing, I was suddenly linked up to the committee room and attempted to look studious while I watched and listened in on the discussion.

The reason for all of this was due to something called the Medical Innovation Bill which has been brought about by Lord Saatchi (not Nigella's ex-husband, thank goodness, but his brother Maurice).

Lord Maurice SaatchiMaurice Saatchi lost his beloved wife, the novelist Josephine Hart, to ovarian cancer in 2011 and like so many of us who have lost loved ones to cancer, he was shocked that seemingly little could be done to prevent her death. He found that treatments for cancer, and the administration of drugs, were archaic and had barely changed in nearly 40 years, so he decided to try and change that.

What Lord Saatchi found was that the medical profession was being held back from attempting new treatments because of the fear of being sued and the accusation of medical negligence.  This country has become very fond of litigation and the amounts of money being paid out to patients suing doctors has reached record levels and amounted to £1.2 billion last year, and the current NHS calculation for pending law suits amounts to £19 billion. It's because of this that the medical profession has become risk averse which means that patients - by and large - receive standard procedures, and although this protects the doctors from being sued it also prevents medical innovation.

The definition of medical negligence is the deviation from standard practice, but by its very definition innovation IS deviation.

As Prof Andy Hall (Director of the Northern Institute for Medical Research) said during the discussion on Monday, the medical profession is not making as much progress as they should be given the time and effort involved. Quite simply, their hands are tied.

We also heard the heartbreaking story of Debbie Binner's daughter Chloe, whose rare form of cancer was deemed 'not worth investing in' by drug companies. Debbie described the 'medieval' treatments her daughter endured, and their frustration at a system seemingly unable and unwilling to try new treatments. Chloe died in February this year, aged just 18.

The idea behind the Medical Innovation Bill is not to have a free-for-all where maverick doctors can try new treatments without approval. The Bill would prevent reckless experimentation on guinea-pig like patients, but it would enable (as Lord Saatchi described it) "bold, innovative work" that will advance the cures for cancers and other illnesses.

Keeping the medical profession in check, and ensuring any new procedures were approved, would be a multi-disciplinary panel who would safeguard the patients' interests and ensure relevant permissions has been gained. Changing the law takes time, so this is not going to be a quick process and it's also important to remember that this Bill will not cure cancer, but it enable the people who will cure it.

Michael Ellis MP introduced the Bill to the Commons today in a 10 minute reading and it was passed. It gets its second reading this Friday (13th September).

So, what can you do?

Please, write to your MP and ask them to support the second reading of the bill. You can use this link to find contact details for your MP (emailing is probably quickest) or just google "MP for {your town}" and the details should pop up.

Talk about this issue to family and friends. Let's make as many people as possible aware of this Bill.

If you're on twitter you can follow @SaatchiBill and keep the discussion going via the hashtag #SaatchiBill

Having lost both parents to cancer this is a subject very close to my heart, and most of you reading this will have been touched by cancer in some way. I urge you to support this Bill.

As Michael Ellis says "We need to reject the status quo because it's not working."

Thank you.