Brian Dawson is an executive committee member for APIL and the association's latest guest blogger. He specialises in disease and clinical negligence, including spinal brain injury,catastrophic injury and birth injury claims.
Maurice Saatchi’s story of his inspiration for the Medical Innovation Bill following the death of his wife from ovarian cancer is both heart rending and seductive. His grief, passion and sincerity are apparent for all to see.
I have met him more than once and was struck by his obvious intelligence and articulacy, but he is not a trained medical practitioner. Nor is he a lawyer and I suggest he needs critical friends from within those professions at this time.
The problem with this initiative is amply demonstrated by the following quote from Lord Saatchi:
"The patient, their family, their partners and their lovers may all be desperate for something else to be tried, something new, something innovatory, but the law prevents any innovation, however reasonably chosen and carefully managed. Why? Because it (Law) defines innovation as deviation from ‘standard procedure’ and deviation makes it medical negligence."
No it does not.
Negligence represents substandard care, which the medical profession itself deems unacceptable. Deviation from standard procedure in appropriate cases is not negligent. I am informed it happens frequently and Lord Saatchi gives several examples of such treatment.
I have never actually heard of a case being brought against a medical professional for providing innovative treatment.
So if medical professionals are saying they fear litigation, then I suggest this is either because the law of negligence has not been adequately explained to them, or they are not adequately recording the basis for exercising their professional judgement in this way, or alternatively they have been on the receiving end of inappropriate cases, which should have been defended.
The answer lies in education, not legislation and it matters because the present definition of negligence is well understood by lawyers and judges and can be easily applied to all cases in the complex field of medicine, which is developing all the time.
Once you try to tinker with it you run a massive risk of unforeseen consequences.
My heart goes out to Lord Saatchi but our main priority has to be patient safety and the probability that by trying to provide much needed help to those souls with nothing to lose, we inadvertently cause or facilitate injury to others.
I am convinced that Lord Saatchi himself would not want to achieve an outcome which put patient safety at risk, so I cannot help but wonder where are his friends at this time?