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Saatchi Bill receives government backing

Lord Saatchi hopes the Bill will encourage medical research into diseases suffered by a small number of people

21 October 2014

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The Medical Innovation Bill proposed by Conservative peer Lord Saatchi has received backing from the government.

The Bill would allow doctors to administer untested and unlicensed drugs in cases where all other options have been exhausted, provided a second medical professional agrees with the prescription.

The Bill has faced a lot of opposition from various campaign groups, but the new safeguard of requiring the input of another medical professional had led the Department of Health to pledge its support, saying it is "minded to support" the Bill.

Lord Saatchi told the Daily Telegraph that the Bill would allow doctors in the UK to be as innovative as those currently working to contain the Ebola outbreak: "In dealing with the deadly Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organisation has decided that departure from standard evidence-based treatment is fully justified and essential.

"It has set ethical guidelines for the use of new therapies and interventions - they are identical to the provisions of the Medical Innovation Bill."

The Bill is currently at the committee stage and will be debated before parliament for the first time on Friday (24 October). If peers and MPs agree on the Bill, it could become law by March 2015.

The new precautionary requirement is unlikely to appease campaign groups and the medical profession continues to be divided.

Sir Robert Francis QC, concluded in his report about the Bill before the latest safeguard was added: "This Bill is, like its two or three predecessors, based on the fundamental misapprehension that the law of negligence inhibits genuine and responsible innovative treatment.

"Not only that, but for all its good intentions, it is actually dangerous for patients because it proposes "safeguards" which are illusory and which may give free rein to mavericks peddling dangerous remedies to vulnerable and desperate people."

Jeremey Hunt, the Health Secretary, has said that he hopes the latest safeguard will be enough to satisfy those who consider the Bill to be a "quacks charter".

Lord Saatchi hopes that removing the need to conduct many years of clinical trials will encourage investment into experimental drugs for diseases which only a small number of people suffer from.

He began to campaign on the issue after his wife Josephine Hart died from ovarian cancer.

Binyamin Ali is assistant editor of Private Client Adviser

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