Lord Saatchi: 'Let new cures be tried out on cancer patients'

Doctors are too scared of legal action to try innovative treatments, the peer tells Steve Connor

An ambitious attempt by cancer doctors to make it lawful to take measured risks with their patients, when the standard medical treatment is almost certainly doomed to fail, has been blocked by the Department of Health.

The department is opposing a Private Members' Bill on medical innovation, on the grounds that there is no need to introduce legislation to protect doctors who try new and risky treatments that could lead to their being sued for medical negligence.

The Medical Innovation Bill by Lord Saatchi, whose wife, the author Josephine Hart, died of ovarian cancer, attempts to protect doctors from being struck off or sued when they prescribe innovative treatments that do not conform to standard medical procedure.

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Lord Saatchi said that he has received widespread support from different levels of government, as well as from the medical and legal professions. "There has been a wide consultation at all levels," he said. "I've yet to hear any objection to the Bill. It strikes people as necessary and logical."

"The view I've received from the medical profession is that there will be no cure for cancer until real doctors with real patients in real hospitals can attempt some kind of innovation, and that is not possible under current law," he said.

"It's not giving freedom to doctors to do what they want. We don't want patients to be treated like mice and we don't want reckless experimentation that puts patients' lives at risk. On the other hand, we do want bold, scientific innovation," he added.

However, sources close to the Department of Health said that officials will try to persuade Lord Saatchi that legislation is not necessary and that the existing law is more than adequate to encourage innovative, but risky, medical treatments.

"We welcome an open debate on how to encourage innovation in the NHS, but the current system does not prevent doctors from doing their best for their patients," said a spokeswoman for the department.

"There is nothing to stop doctors considering novel and innovative treatments to help their patients, but what is crucial is that patients are involved in the decision-making process and are fully informed of the risks and benefits of any treatment," she said.

Lord Saatchi's Bill goes through a crucial phase this week in the House of Commons, where it is about to enter the committee stage. It has received strong support from some sections of the medical profession concerned that doctors are fearful of being sued or struck off if they veer away from standard medical practice, even when the outlook for patients is dismal.

"The problem is that cancer is relentless, remorseless and merciless, and that treatment is medieval, degrading and ineffective. Therefore, we can all agree that more innovation is required to reach a cure for cancer," Lord Saatchi said.

"Under current law, any deviation from standard procedure is likely to result in guilt for medical negligence, that is because current law defines medical negligence as deviation from standard procedure," he added.

"Therefore the doctor is obliged to stick to the well-worn path even though the doctor knows that it leads to poor quality of life, followed by death."

Lord Saatchi's wife of 27 years, Josephine, author of Damage and a number of other best-sellers, died two years ago. She had a rare tumour that can be hard to treat because so little is known about it from large-scale clinical trials – the gold standard for evidence-based medicine.

Professor Stephen Kennedy, clinical director of women's services at Oxford University NHS Trust, supports Lord Saatchi's Bill because he said doctors are more risk averse in a more litigious culture, where they face being disciplined by the General Medical Council if they do not conform to standard practice.

"Doctors are afraid of being struck off for not following standard practice and they are afraid of how innovation is seen by the general public," Professor Kennedy said.

"The problem is particularly acute for rare cancers. What do you do when confronted with a patient with a rare cancer where the evidence base is not strong or when there is no evidence?" he said.

Andy Hall, professor of experimental haematology at Newcastle University and an expert on bone cancer, said: "There have been major advances in some areas, but in others it has been agonisingly slow, and we are still left with treatments that are extremely blunt instruments.

"Take, for example, bone cancer. Treatment frequently involves amputation and extremely toxic chemotherapy. Lord Saatchi's Bill draws attention to the need to innovate when the prognosis of an individual patient is poor."

Lord Saatchi's Bill proposes that doctors and patients agree on a non-standard treatment only with the approval of a multidisciplinary team of experts. This would circumvent the risk of litigation if it went wrong, Lord Saatchi believes.

"Lawsuits against the NHS have doubled in the past four years. The payout last year was £1.2bn," he said. "The Treasury's provision for likely liabilities for medical negligence claims against the NHS is now £23bn. That is up £4bn from last year."

"It is not logical to believe that this climate does not create a risk-averse culture in which the safe path is the status quo. In those circumstances, science cannot advance," he said.

"I am more of the view that the insistence on the status quo in the law on the repetition of standard procedure is a block to scientific advance and, at least in part, an explanation for why there is no cure for cancer.

"The good doctor will be encouraged and the bad doctor will be more easily exposed than under current law."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain