By Christopher Hope
Published in the Telegraph 2nd March 2015
The Liberal Democrats’ decision to stop MPs voting on a new law to allow doctors to test treatments on dying patients is “odd and wrong”, Labour has said.
The comments from Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, leave Nick Clegg’s party politically isolated over its controversial decision to withdraw support for the Medical Innovation Bill.
The Bill – which was passed by the House of Lords – would have allowed doctors to test cutting edge new treatments on patients to help find cures for cancer and other serious illnesses.
It was being promoted by Lord Saatchi, the advertising magnate after his wife Josephine Hart died from ovarian cancer.
However last week the LibDems’ health minister Norman Lamb said the party would not allow the Commons to debate it – effectively killing the legislation.
Mr Burnham criticised the decision as “strange” and said the LibDems should have entered talks with Labour and the Tories to iron out any concerns.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “I am disappointed that the Liberals have done this – there should at least have been some cross-party talks about this, at the very least.
“The Bill was heavily amended and extra safeguards put in, and I worry a little bit that those who are opposed to it don’t realise that it is actually quite a different Bill now.”
Mr Burnham said that the Bill had offered hope to desperate parents of seriously ill or dying children.
He said: “For parents like them nothing is available and they have no hope, it [the Bill] is about opening up hope.
“It is often parents who struggle to get their voice heard – they often don’t get much parliamentary time or much focus.
“Norman’s move is odd and wrong, because just to give it an airing would help get some focus on the awful position many of these parents find themselves in.”
Margaret Hodge, a senior Labour MP, said the Bill provided “clarity and certainty for patients and doctors at the point of treatment, and enable doctors to innovate confidently”.
Peers also expressed their anger on the floor of the House of Lords on Monday that the legislation had been effectively axed without a vote by MPs.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister who had supported the Bill, said 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 has argued for it to go ahead and those who have come to it differently will have to explain their position.”
Lord Saatchi described the LibDems’ decision was “a death sentence” for “cancer patients. It is an extraordinary turn of events.
“This is a grotesque insult to the House of Lords. The Liberal Democrats are saying that the House of Commons will never debate this Bill which has been sent to it and passed by the House of Lords.”
But defending the decision, Mr Lamb said: “The Liberal Democrats have listened to the concerns of patient organisations, research charities, legal bodies, royal colleges and medical unions who have told us the Bill in its current form could actually put patient safety at risk.
“I am not interested in pushing this into the long grass. It should be given priority but we must get it right. Such an examination of the issue should involve patient organisations, legal bodies, royal colleges and medical unions.”