Northampton MP helps draft law proposal that could help doctors treat terminal illnesses with experimental treatment

Lord Maurice Saatchi visiting Cynthia Spencer Hospice last year
Lord Maurice Saatchi visiting Cynthia Spencer Hospice last year

A law which could bring doctors closer to discovering cures for cancer and other terminal illnesses could soon be passed with the support of a Northampton MP.

The ‘Medical Innovation Bill’ has now been taken to the House of Commons for the next stage of debate by Northampton North MP Michael Ellis, who has worked on the project alongside Lord Maurice Saatchi.

If the bill is passed and becomes law, supporters say it would make doctors treating patients with terminal illnesses such as cancer legally free to try more experimental treatments. Those backing the Bill have said that this could help develop cures, as opposed to treatments, for previously incurable illnesses.

However, the claims have been disputed by a campaign group, Stop The Saatchi Bill Alliance, which says the change will result in patients not being able to sue negiligent doctors. They also argue that it is opposed by the majority of medical, legal, patient and research organisations.

Speaking to the Chron, Mr Ellis said: “Tens of thousands of people die every year from cancer so the scope for success from this knows no bounds.

“We have been unable to make much progress in treating diseases like cancer for years because doctors fear they will be sued or accused of reckless experiments, even for trying new things they know will work.

“As a result, we have been walking a well-worn path of treatments, some of which are up to 40 years old, which haven’t kept up with the pace of advances in science. What’s more, many patients who do have terminal illnesses are often willing to try anything.”

The Bill would allow doctors to be innovative with their treatments only if they have the fully informed consent of their patient and the agreement of a second senior doctor and other multi-disciplined medical professionals.

Mr Ellis said: “These measures are to safeguard any misuse of the law and prevent doctors from accusations.

“Throughout history, cures have been found for illnesses by accident or by experimenting with new courses of treatment. However, there are currently no legal mechanisms to allow doctors in the UK to do this.

“How can we expect to find cancer cures if we don’t start trying different things?”

Mr Ellis has been working on the Bill with Lord Saatchi, who is funding the process, for three years and they have both visited Northampton’s Cynthia Spencer Hospice in their research.

But, he said, “the biggest challenge” to getting the Bill passed is time, as Parliament will soon prepare to dissolve before the General Election and the three-year process would have to begin again.

Mr Ellis’s claims have been disputed by the campaign group, Stop the Saatchi Bill Alliance.

Andy Lewis, a founding member of the alliance, said: “It is not true, as Michael Ellis MP states, that doctors will be ‘legally free to try more experimental treatments’ under the Saatchi Bill.

“Doctors are already free to innovate and Britain has an outstanding record in developing medical science.

“The Medical Innovation Bill will have only one significant direct consequence: to prevent patients suing negligent doctors. It is opposed by almost all major medical, legal, patient and research organisations in the UK because, while it does not solve any genuine barrier to developing new treatments, it exposes patients to serious risk of harm and increases the likelihood of complex, expensive litigation.

“The Bill would apply to treatment for any condition, not just serious incurable illnesses such as cancer, regardless of whether an effective treatment already exists. This bill will not cure cancer, or any other disease, but it will protect a doctor who makes dangerous, unsupportable treatment decisions, while removing protections from their patients,” he said.