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Government questions innovation uptake by doctors

Published on 28/02/14 at 10:52am
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The government has launched a consultation which aims to establish whether doctors are being held back from using innovative treatments, due to worries over being sued if something goes wrong.

It wants to know if a proposed Medical Innovation Bill will encourage doctors to innovate in medical practice, while at the same time improving safeguards for patients.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said that the government was not trying to help increase uptake of new medicines from the pharma industry. Rather, she told Pharmafocus that the “consultation is purely to get views on whether or not people think doctors are being held back [from using new and innovative products] at the moment”.

The question of innovation is a key one in pharma - and a number of firms have expressed concern about PPRS in this context. However, the spokeswoman refuted the suggestion that new pricing arrangements themselves could hinder innovation. “The pricing agreement is there to help companies develop innovative products,” she said.

A spokesman from the ABPI, which was the prime mover from pharma in the PPRS negotiations, agreed. “It should encourage more innovation,” he said.

The consultation which runs to 25 April, suggests: “The possibility of getting sued for clinical negligence might put doctors off choosing innovative treatments and might make them more likely to stick with standard practice.”

The hope is that the Bill will clarify existing law: at present there is no Act of Parliament that puts into black and white how responsible medical innovation is defined, or what a test of clinical negligence should be.

Instead, case law - decisions made previously in cases brought to court - gives doctors a defence against a claim of negligence if they can show there is support for the treatment they gave from “a responsible body of medical opinion”.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We want to make sure doctors are not held back if they want to use pioneering treatments to offer a lifeline to dying patients. Innovation has always been at the heart of the NHS and is essential for improving treatments and finding new cures.”

Adam Hill

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