The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has set out ‘real concerns’ over a private member’s bill that seeks to promote access to innovative medical treatments.

  • Academy of Medical Royal Colleges worried new innovative treatments bill will have “unintended adverse consequences”
  • Proposed database of innovative treatments is a “threat to patient safety”
  • MP putting forward the bill “surprised” by academy’s statements

The academy, which represents 16 royal colleges, is worried the bill will have “unintended adverse consequences”. The bill is due to receive a second reading in Parliament tomorrow.

It says in a briefing on the bill that it is “unclear what problem this legislation is seeking to resolve and uncertain that the proposals will achieve their stated purposes”.

The Access to Medical Treatments (Innovations) Bill, put forward by Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris, calls for the creation of a database of innovative treatments. It says doctors should be allowed to “depart from the existing range of accepted medical treatments for a condition” if “one or more” doctors agree the treatment would have the support of a “responsible body of medical opinion” and it is felt to be in the best interests of the patient.

The academy says the bill “picks up proposals” first set out in the Medical Innovation Bill put forward by Lord Saatchi in the last Parliament. This bill was vetoed by the Liberal Democrats and then care minister Norman Lamb said he wanted to avoid “the risk of unintended consequences”.

The academy also expresses concerns over the proposed database.

Sarah Wollaston

The bill is based on a ‘false premise’ that fear of litigation is a barrier to innovation for doctors, Sarah Wollaston said

Its briefing said: “We have concerns there is no quality control of the input to a register in terms of both veracity and completeness. If, for example, experience shows that an innovation is not effective is it then removed from the register? We are keen to see real rigour in registering of all clinical research in addition to clinical trials and their full methods and results reported. This proposal runs the risk of being used as an easy alternative. This is a threat to patient safety.”

The colleges also questioned the use of the term “innovation”.

“We do not understand the distinction between ‘individual patient innovation’ and ‘research’. The distinction seems false and potentially dangerous,” the academy said.

The colleges and the chair of the Commons health committee, Sarah Wollaston, argue the government’s Accelerated Access Review is already addressing the barriers to innovation in the NHS.

Dr Wollaston said the bill is based on a “false premise” that fear of litigation is the “big barrier” to innovation for doctors.

She told HSJ: “In fact, pretty much everyone in the field says this is just not true.”

Dr Wollaston also questioned the part of the bill that allows doctors to depart from accepted medical treatments with the support of another clinician.

She said: “I’m concerned that in the bill’s provisions you only have to consult with one other clinician and it could be somebody in the same clinic as you – the assumption that just because you’re medically qualified that would be sufficient.

“There are a lot of concerns here about what it could open up in terms of people at the most desperate time in their lives being persuaded to have treatments that are not in their best interests… Just because you label something innovative doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be helpful. In fact, a lot of innovative treatment will either be of no benefit or actively harmful,” she added.

Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I am surprised that the academy has made these statements, which seem to relate more to the old Medical Innovation Bill introduced by Lord Saatchi in the House of Lords a few months ago than to my bill.

“Considering many of the colleges that form the academy have individually called for the database my bill seeks to introduce, and that the main part of my bill simply confers a power on the secretary of state to establish such a database, I can only assume they have misunderstood the intention or misread the content of the bill.

“Should my bill achieve its second reading on Friday, I will continue to consult and work with the royal colleges and other interested parties.”