Telegraph: We now have hope of finding new ways to treat incurable diseases

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

Published in the Telegraph 24th January 2015

I left the Palace of Westminster yesterday with the word “content” ringing in my ears – the Medical Innovation Bill has passed the House of Lords.

A gentle utterance by fellow peers has ended a three‑year roller-coaster ride that has left me at times elated and at times in despair. But for the moment at least, I too am content. The day when patients with terminal diseases, and their doctors, will together be better able to try novel treatments, legally, safely and confidently, has all but arrived.

There is one more river to cross before we reach the Promised Land. The Bill will now be carried to the House of Commons by Michael Ellis MP, where it will again be debated. Time is the enemy now. Parliament is dissolved in a matter of weeks, ahead of the General Election. But I am confident, because the Lords have sent this Bill to the Commons in good order.

It has been roundly debated, challenged, amended, honed, tightened, clarified and improved by my colleagues on all sides of the House. Honest opposition to elements of it – no one has objected to the principle of the legislation – have now had their concerns met.

I’m particularly grateful to the Labour front bench and Lords Winston and Turnberg – both eminent doctors; Lord Pannick QC, a renowned legal mind; and Lord Hunt, who comes from a stellar medical background. They have debated the Bill and laid helpful amendments that have strengthened it. I also owe a debt to Baronesses Wheeler and Masham.

We have all worked together to lay a joint amendment making it a requirement that doctors who innovate under the Bill must record and share the results – good and bad – of their innovations on an open register. This is crucial if medical science is to be advanced. Doctors and scientists must know what works and what doesn’t. It is a leap forward for all doctors because today those innovations that do take place are not formally and universally recorded. It is also an amendment many medical and research bodies have called for, and I am delighted that today it is on the face of my Bill.

I must also thank the Telegraph and its readers who have followed this Bill and cheered for it. We would not be where we are today without you. Are we home? We are certainly close. I am confident we will find time in the Commons.

I say this because more than 18,000 patients contributed to the Department of Health’s consultation on the Bill last year. Another word for patients is voters. I believe that MPs will also recognise that their constituents want to see change. And they will see that the Bill has been tested no fewer than four times in the House of Lords, taken apart and reassembled line by line. Opposition has evolved into support. During the first committee stage there were 39 amendments made. Yesterday, there were just two – both of which I supported.

But what a journey it has been. The Bill was born in the mire of my personal grief, and inspired by some of Britain’s most brilliant doctors. In recent weeks I have seen supporters such as Charlie Kitley, Ismena Clout, Rachel Stevens – daughter of the Bishop of Leicester – all succumb to cancer. Their memory is dyed in the fabric of this Bill.

And opponents have fought the Bill. Most in good faith. Others less so – and it has been a struggle at times to hold back as my team and I have been accused of being liars, of being in bed with Big Pharma, of having some perverse agenda other than the acceleration of medical science. All I wish is that others may not have to experience what I and the families of those I have just mentioned are experiencing today.

I have, on occasion, let my feelings show. It has been particularly irksome to be criticised by legal firms who profit by suing doctors. In particular, I think of Leigh Day – under investigation themselves for destroying evidence crucial to the defence of British soldiers in Iraq wrongly accused of deliberately abusing detainees.

What is my motivation? Do I have an axe to grind? What is my interest? I will be clear. I am doing this because I believe it is the right thing for patients, for medical science, for finding new ways to treat incurable diseases. And in memory of my wife and all those who have died of cancer.

Published in the Telegraph 24th January 2015


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone