Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters The “Saatchi bill”

The “Saatchi bill” is mistargeted and will put vulnerable patients at risk

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 14 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3135
  1. Nigel Poole, barrister, Queen’s Counsel1
  1. 1Kings Chambers, Manchester M3 3FT, UK
  1. npoole{at}

The Medical Innovation Bill is unnecessary, mistargeted, and will put vulnerable patients at risk.1 In its response to the public consultation, the BMA said it “strongly believes that the draft bill should not become law.”2 I agree.

The bill’s laudable aim is to promote responsible medical innovation, but the draft on which the government has consulted seeks to do so by providing that doctors who give treatment that no responsible body of medical opinion would support shall not be negligent.

The bill is aimed at the wrong target. As the Medical Defence Union said,3 4 medical negligence law does not prevent responsible innovation. Doctors who act in accordance with a responsible body of medical opinion are not negligent, even if most other doctors would not support the treatment given (the Bolam test). Sir Michael misunderstands the judgment of Lady Butler-Sloss in Simms. Far from holding that the Bolam test obstructed innovative treatment, she deployed it to justify allowing untried treatment to be given to two patients with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Whether that was a good decision or not, it cannot be used to argue that the current law impedes innovation.

The bill has nothing to say about matters that have a real bearing on innovation, such as funding or regulation.

“Innovative treatment” is not defined, so the bill applies to all negligent decisions to treat, whether innovative or not. It does require that certain procedural steps should be taken by the doctor before making the decision, but, by definition, the decision would still be one that no responsible body of medical opinion would support. Contrary to some reports, the bill does not require other professionals to endorse the doctor’s decision.

Surely there are better ways of promoting responsible innovation than by removing the right of redress to patients who are harmed as a result of treatment that no responsible body of doctors would support?


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3135


  • Competing interests: I am a barrister practising in clinical negligence law.