Consultation asks if fear of being sued stifles innovation

DOCTORS are being asked if they avoid using pioneering treatments because they are afraid of being sued.

A consultation has been launched by the Department of Health on the proposed new Medical Innovation Bill 2014 which aims to encourage doctors to innovate in medical practice.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We want to make sure doctors are not held back if they want to use pioneering treatments to offer a lifeline to dying patients. Innovation has always been at the heart of the NHS and is essential for improving treatments and finding new cures.”

The Bill, which applies in England and Wales, seeks to encourage “responsible medical innovation and help prevent irresponsible innovation”.

It states: “It is not negligent for a doctor to depart from the existing range of accepted medical treatments for a condition… if the decision to do so is taken responsibly.”

A responsible decision is defined as one based on the doctor’s opinion that there are “plausible reasons why the proposed treatment might be effective”.

Doctors would be expected to make decisions based on a process that is accountable, transparent and allows full consideration by the doctor of all relevant matters, the Bill adds. They should consider the likely consequences of carrying out – or not carrying out – the proposed treatment, and take into account the opinions of both the patient and colleagues.

It clearly states, however, that: “Nothing in this section permits a doctor to provide treatment without consent that is otherwise required by law, or to carry out treatment for the purposes of research or for any purpose other than the patient’s best interests.”

The consultation runs until April 25 on the DoH website

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