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MAR 26/2014

How NHS professionals can help shape the UK Medical Innovation Bill

Healthcare professionals across the UK are currently being asked to share their opinions on a potentially groundbreaking piece of legislation that could give them more flexibility than ever before in choosing the right treatment pathway for their patients.

The Medical Innovation Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords in May 2013, having been sponsored and championed by Lord Saatchi, who believes the new law could bring numerous benefits for doctors, nurses and other NHS workers.

With this new bill, the government is hoping to usher in a culture where trained medical professionals feel more empowered to experiment in an educated manner with treatment options that may not conform to standard practice.

Medical innovation has helped to greatly increase life expectancy over the past century, but in recent years many doctors have been less willing to take chances, due to the growing fear of getting sued for clinical negligence.

One key reason why this has happened is that there are no laws in place to codify exactly what counts as responsible medical innovation, or that sets out a test of clinical negligence, meaning most disputes are currently settled by referring to established precedent and case law.

The Medical Innovation Bill aims to change this, setting down a clear series of rules that would encourage responsible innovation in medical treatment, while also ensuring that irresponsible experimentation is avoided.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has backed the cause of those supporting the bill, saying: "Their hope is that legislation to clarify when medical innovation is responsible will reduce the risks of clinical negligence claims. Their argument is that with this threat diminished, doctors will be confident to innovate appropriately and responsibly. This innovation could lead to major breakthroughs, such as a cure for cancer."

As such, the bill is currently up for consultation, allowing NHS staff across the country to share their opinions on what form the new laws might take. They are being asked to relate their experience of instances where the threat of litigation or a lack of clarity have deterred innovative thinking in the past, as well as being given a chance to share their views on current clauses pertaining to responsibility, transparency and best practice that exist in the draft legislation.

The consultation also covers questions such as how the changes could be communicated to doctors and how they could be reinforced, plus the overarching question of whether doctors agree the bill should become law.

Comments can be submitted until April 25th 2014, with a full response from the government expected the following month.

Mr Hunt said: "The government should do whatever is needed to remove barriers that prevent innovation which can save and improve lives. We must create a climate where clinical pioneers have the freedom to make breakthroughs in treatment."

Past British medical innovations include Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin and Sir Peter Mansfield's enabling of magnetic resonance imaging - it is hoped that the new bill could ensure that healthcare staff are empowered to make similarly groundbreaking discoveries in future as well.

More information on the bill can be found here.

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