The access to medical treatments bill will put children at risk

By Anne Williams

The House of Commons seems to be hosting some sort of Bad Bills Festival, with the pernicious immigration bill and the stunningly counter-productive housing bill as headline acts, and featuring the access to medical treatments (innovation) bill (aka 'return of the Saatchi bill')

Despite its name, the access to medical treatments (innovation) bill does nothing whatsoever to increase either access to medicines or medical innovation. All it does is give bad doctors a way to avoid being sued for negligence if they harm or kill a patient through irresponsible practice. It's so flawed, however, that litigation will very likely increase.

Its precursor the Saatchi bill, a private members' bill devised and promoted by marketing magnate Lord Saatchi, ran out of time in the last parliament. Meanwhile the Welsh Assembly have rejected it unanimously last February. Lord Saatchi has now 'handed it over' to Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris and it has its second reading in the Commons on Friday.

The bill is backed by the Department of Health but it's opposed by the vast majority of professional medical bodies, research organisations, and patient advocacy groups, as well as legal experts. A statement earlier this week by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reiterates their objections in no uncertain terms, stating that the bill 'places patients – in particular infants, children and young people – at grave risk' and 'will encourage irresponsible experimentation'

The bill is also opposed by Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston. The head of the Health Select Committee and former GP was also outspoken in her opposition to last year’s Saatchi Bill.

It will be interesting to see how many MPs from either of the major parties – perhaps particularly the new Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander – have sufficient knowledge and integrity to join Dr Wollaston as she stands up to the perennially grinning, seemingly bullet-proof secretary of state for health – and the powerful, obstinate peer behind him.

Anne Williams is a freelance journalist.

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