What Next for the Medical Innovation Bill?

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The Liberal Democrats have prevented the House of Commons from debating the Medical Innovation Bill.

→TELEGRAPH: Fury as Lib Dems block Medical Innovation Bill

→SIGN: Petition demanding Nick Clegg debate the Bill

The Bill is on the order paper for Second Reading on 6th March 2015 – but with so many Bills on the list there will never be time for MPs to have a debate.

The Government had found time for a full debate. The debate would not have been whipped – meaning MPs could vote according to their own preference. It would have been truly democratic.

However, the Liberal Democrat leadership had the right to veto debate, under the terms of the coalition agreement set up when the Tories and Lib Dems joined forces in 2010 to form a government.

And veto it he did – meaning the there will now be no debate on the Medical Innovation Bill in the House of Commons.

This veto is of concern on two levels.

The Bill sought to provide clarity and certainty for patients and doctors at the point of treatment,  by setting clear statutory criteria for responsible and irresponsible innovation.

It would have ended the present litigation lottery, according to which you only find out whether treatment was responsible by setting up opposing teams of medical witnesses in expensive and protracted litigation after the fact.

And it would have paved the way for the establishment of a ground-breaking register of innovation results, allowing positive and negative results of new treatments to be shared, pointing the way to new full clinical trials, and reducing the appalling number of wasted lives.

The blocking of the Bill is therefore a medical calamity; but there is also a constitutional issue.

The Bill was the subject of a Written Ministerial Statement approving the fundamental policy, a Government public consultation, and four full debating stages in the House of Lords.

The patient safeguard provisions were amended by the Medical Director of the NHS at the request of the Secretary of State for Health.

Other medical and legal peers tabled amendments which were accepted into the Bill.

→SIGN: Petition demanding Nick Clegg debate the Bill

The degree of cross-party scrutiny and consensus was unparalleled for a private peer’s Bill, reflecting the extreme importance of its subject matter.

The Conservative front-bench, with Labour co-operation, found a way to allow the Bill to be debated in the House of Commons; by vetoing that, and refusing to allow the issue even to be debated, the Liberal Democrats have shown utter contempt for the House of Lords, and a total disregard for the right of Members of Parliament to debate matters of crucial importance to their constituents.

The passing of the Medical Innovation Bill, with any additional safeguards or qualifications that the House of Commons had wanted to add to those proposed by the House of Lords, would have been a magnificent achievement in the final stages of this Parliament.

It would have reminded citizens that Parliamentarians on all sides are committed to doing everything possible to improve the health services, to encourage responsible innovation, to use shared anonymised health data to accelerate medical progress, and to protect patients and doctors.

That opportunity has been missed so that the Liberal Democrats could demonstrate their political power within Government: voters will not forget or forgive that lightly.

Where are we now?

Tthe Labour Party’s shadow Health Minister, Andy Burnham MP and Margaret Hodge MP (Labour) came out in favour of the Bill, further isolating the Lib Dems.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister who had supported the Bill,told the Telegraph that Mr Clegg and the LibDems would have to defend their decision

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has expressed his support for this – there were changes that were made during its passage through the Lords with regard to safeguards.

“He would have wanted the Bill to go ahead clearly because he was supportive. He has argued for it to go ahead and those who have come to it differently will have to as they have explain their position.”

So it has government and opposition support in the Commons.  And supporters angered by the Lib Dems – and even some open-minded opponents who support and trust the democratic process – have spoken in number in favour of a debate on the Bill.

At best we are right back at the beginning.

It has taken more than two years to get to this stage – after a long public consultation, four debates in the House of Lords and a review undertaken by NHS chief Sir Bruce Keogh.

As you would expect we are doing our best to see if there is anything else we can do but unfortunately it does not look at all hopeful.

As things stand, it is a matter for supporters to tell us what they want and to tell their MPs too.

→SIGN: Petition demanding Nick Clegg debate the Bill

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