Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill
Today the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill was debated at 2nd Reading in the House of Commons. It has now successfully scaled that hurdle onto the committee stage where it will receive further scrutiny.
Chris Heaton-Harris MP has taken on some of the important work started by Lord Saatchi, which Empower: Access to Medicine supported. Mr Heaton-Harris has taken forward a particular element of Lord Saatchi’s original Bill which could be important to expediting treatment development – the creation of a central innovation database.
Empower believes that the proposed database could act as a catalyst to establishing promising treatment routes.
Empower does not believe that the Bill’s clauses on responsible innovation move the debate forward a great deal. Instead we would rather see a greater focus on the rights of patients to access treatments earlier in the clinical trials process. The Bill runs the danger of becoming too bogged down in debates around quantifying what a responsible innovation is, and what constitutes a responsible intervention by a clinician.As was originally proposed in the Halpin Protocol, the most important thing should be the rights of the patient, not specifically the powers of the doctor. The Protocol laid out that, under certain circumstances, a patient should be able to waive normal procedure and follow a treatment course that may be of greater risk.
“Does the Patient give informed consent to the modification of his/her legal remedies against the Developer of the Drug and against those conducting the Clinical Trials?” – The Halpin Protocol
The Access to Medical Treatments Bill, like the Medical Innovation Bill before it, has been hugely important for stimulating the debate in this area. We only wish it would go further.
The debate is important, and the fact that so many medical and patient bodies have engaged in it is significant. Many of their concerns about the Bill are of course valid, however, Empower is concerned that much of the criticism levelled against the Bill seems to suggest that the powers it seeks to confer are already in existence. If this is true, are these organisations suggesting that the status quo is satisfactory?
Empower: Access to Medicine would strongly assert that it is not. The cost of drug development continues to spiral upward, and the number of treatments getting through to patients continues to plummet. The system needs a shake up and we welcome the intervention that this Bill is trying to make.
It seems to us that critics cannot argue in parallel that the Bill offers powers that already exist, whilst at the same time suggest that the powers on offer would be dangerous to patients. Though it may be difficult to quantify, the medical sector’s cultural fear of litigation does influence clinical decision making – and it has deep roots, as our adviser Sir Peter Lachmann explains.
As David Nuttall MP said in the debate, “though the law has not changed much, society has; we are less deferential and more litigious.” It is about time that medicine caught up with this change and gave patients a greater say in their treatment.
The Bill may not be perfect, and indeed does not go far enough, but at least Chris Heaton-Harris is trying to do something. We welcome the further scrutiny and debate it will create as the Bill is subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
Finally, we would like to thank the Life Sciences Minister, George Freeman, for his kind words about our founder Les Halpin during the debate. Les was a man who wanted to see action and his message to politicians would probably be “get on with it.”