Today, Lord Saatchi is presenting his Private Member’s Bill to the House of Lords. It is the start, he hopes, of this Bill’s passage to become law.
It is quite clear too, that the overwhelming response of doctors, professional bodies, medical charities and lawyers was that the Bill was not needed, misguided and could be a danger to patients and scientific research. The Saatchi Bill team have been made public comments that they have been listening to criticism and the latest draft being put to the House of Lords has amendments that address these concerns.
The overwhelming response from the more than 18,000 patients, doctors and institutions who responded was a clear vote in favour of the Bill.
The Bill team does not wish the Bill to be used as a guise for reckless experimentation and thus, the Bill states that it may only be used in the best interests of the individual patient.
Respondents also gave firm feedback that the Bill must be clearer on how it was to ensure that there was no room for the quack to use the Bill as cover for reckless experimentation.
After the consultation period ended, I said I would apply what I called ‘The Burzynski Test’ to the Bill. That is, would the Bill allow a doctor, like the Texas-based Dr Burzynski to get away with giving children with cancer unproven quack treatments for years without legal sanction? Burzynski, based in Houston, developed a cancer treatment based on urine that he charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for. He claims he is conducting trials, but has never published any substantial results to back up the claims he is making.
The new Bill is a lot shorter. And is accompanied by extensive notes. However clear the intentions of the Saatchi team are to stop quackery and the exploitation of patients, it is the words of the Bill that matter and that is what we must look at.
The tests that a doctor must undergo before he can use a new treatment are as follow
(a) consultation with appropriately qualified colleagues, including any
relevant multi-disciplinary team;
(b) notification in advance to the doctor’s responsible officer;
(c) consideration of any opinions or requests expressed by or on behalf
of the patient;
(d) obtaining any consents required by law; and
(e) consideration of all matters that appear to the doctor to be
reasonably necessary to be considered in order to reach a clinical
judgment, including assessment and comparison of the actual or
probable risks and consequences of different treatments.
The Saatchi team claim that the doctor must have agreement with a “multi-disciplinary team”. However, the Bill is clear that a doctor need only consult if there is one that is relevent. Who decides what a team should look like, if it is relevant, and whether or not it should be independent of that doctor is not stated. This is huge weakness for patient protection. The second part again says that the doctor should notify their ‘Responsible Officer’. Again there is no need to gain permission from the Officer to follow their recommendation. Notification and concultation are required. Agreement and permissions are not.
Burzynski works in his own private clinic. he has a team of junior doctors and he is careful to ensure they are the patients’ doctors and not him. One of those doctors could consult with the rest of his fellow colleagues as a “multi-disciplinary team” and ask notify Burzynski as their Responsible Officer. Burzynski does not even have to approve anything here for the purposes of the law. What is clear is that this team would not be independent and would have a massive conflict of interest. A patient would not be protected by these tests. In order to protect the patient, such tests would require explicit consents to be given and the consulted individuals to have no financial or other conflicts of interest in the decision.
The last test is for the doctor to consider all reasonable matters. Burzynski is clearly convinced, or at least says he is, that his treatments are non-toxic, effective and safe. No other body of responsible medical opinion would agree with him. But the Saatchi tests merely ask the Burzynski character himself to do the considering. This does not appear to protect the patient in anyway.
We do not have anything quite like a Dr Burzynski in the UK. Perhaps this is so because the law protect patients from such exploitation by maverick doctors. The Saatchi Bill appears to strip away such protections.
That is not to say we do not have such doctors lurking in the wings. There are still dozens of homeopathic and anthroposophic doctors who tend to work together in teams that could indeed act as the puppets in a Saatchi test. There are private clinics in the UK that do indeed offer alternative cancer treatments and speudoscientific and superstitious treatments for a range of illnesses. This BIll could indeed be their license to practice with impunity.
So, I must remain firmly opposed to the Bill. And as such, I have been working to set up a campaign to ensure that MPs and journalist have access to the facts about the Bill and the breadth of opinions from professional sources that are opposed to it. The Saatchi team do not appear to be listening to criticism and appear to be consistently misrepresenting what the Bill actually says. When our web site launches in the nest day or so, please use it to help write to your MP and make a noise so that they have to listen.