It’s All Over Now

The Saatchi Bill has been defeated, for now at least. But there is no room for complacency and little for congratulation: we still need to take a hard look at the genuine barriers to innovation

6th March 2015

And then, after all the panic, it was over.

The Medical Innovation Bill, the Saatchi Bill (how many times have I written those words?) will not now pass in this Parliament. Despite a last-ditch attempt to whip up support and isolate the Lib-Dems – who refused to give the bill additional debating time – the Saatchi Bill team didn’t get the bill into law.

The last few weeks had seen the wheels slowly come off the promotional campaign, with increasing numbers of major institutions, patient groups, doctors’ organisations, legal and research groups all lining up to say that they opposed it as unhelpful at best, harmful at worst. But Saatchi’s campaign had heard all these concerns before and not taken heed of them; there was no guarantee, right up to the last second, that the bill would or could be stopped.

But stopped it was.

While it is right to feel a great deal of relief today, there really isn’t much room to be complacent or satisfied. The world today is no better a place than it was yesterday as a result of this bill’s defeat. There still remain major barriers to the development of new treatments.

Spare a thought for the patients, relatives and carers who supported this bill. They joined the campaign in good faith, and were not to know that the bill could not deliver what it promised. They have every right to feel upset that their needs have not been met.

Spare a thought too, for all the professionals, in medicine, law; in patients groups and charities; the bloggers, broadcasters, writers and researchers, who had to spend thousands of hours working to defeat this bill. Hours that could have been put to use to achieve something good rather than to defeat something bad. It has all been so bloody wasteful.

For this is a bill that should never have got as far as it did. I’m not going to rehash all the arguments here now, but the fact that it was possible for such a flawed bill to get so far is a matter for serious concern about our political system and how it can be bent to a particular goal in the face of overwhelming counter evidence. It surely is a rare event for medical, legal, research and patient protection opinion to be in agreement, but agreed they were about how bad it was, yet still this bill very nearly passed. This was my first view of the political system throughout the passage of a bill. It was not an edifying sight.

And yet we also have a demonstration that an amateur campaign, run on a shoestring, can actually make a difference. The Stop The Saatchi Bill campaign that ultimately, I think, was the catalyst for the defeat of this bill had tiny resources and few contacts. But as more and more people and organisations started to pick up on the problems with the bill, the groundswell of support grew until we started to be heard by people who could make a difference. Those people included MPs Julian Huppert, Sarah Wollaston and Norman Lamb who between them brought the bill to a halt.

The fact that my writing was one of the more visible parts of the campaign against the bill means there is a risk of my contribution being seen as more important than it really was; in fact many many people worked far more thanklessly behind the scenes, and their contribution will probably never be fully appreciated, except by those of us who know the debt we owe. I won’t list everyone who should be thanked here, not least because I suspect there will be some people who are quite cross with us right now. But I do thank them*, and I will take a moment to name and thank Dean Burnett at the Guardian and Olly Huitson at Open Democracy. Both these gentlemen made sure that views opposing the bill were aired in the mainstream, which was vital in clarifying the debate. Without them, and lacking a media partner of our own, we may not have been heard. I do not, by naming these two people, intend to imply their support for our point of view, merely that they felt it was important it should be heard.

As life returns to normal, the question of another attempt at the Saatchi Bill may cause concern. Is our medical environment safe, or is this time of peace merely a reprieve? It may be that, across the corridors of Westminster, they have learned their lessons and even now await their opportunity. Perhaps the future belongs not to us – but to Saatchi?

Daniel Greenberg – the bill’s legal adviser – certainly thinks so. In a HealthWatch debate about the bill at KCL on 4th March, he repeatedly told a surprised audience that the bill is going to happen eventually, that the genie is out of the bottle, and we should get used to the idea. He may be right. But that doesn’t mean we should just meekly accept the cheapening of medicine and research that the bill as it stood would have represented. There is a better way.

Norman Lamb has framed one possibility – a proper investigation into the genuine issues that face the development of new treatments. We know what some of the problems could be: funding, red tape, training, culture. If any good is to come from this affair, could it be that we could actually start to look at some of these problems in a systematic way, with the will to do something about them?

Lord Saatchi has a lot of clout. With his backing, a lot could be achieved. There are campaigns already running that could benefit. AllTrials, for example, which seeks to ensure that the results of all clinical trials – past and present – are openly published. Achieving this goal could save many lives and push forward development of new and better treatments.

The next step is there to be taken. We need to take it together.

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Contact me here.

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* The campaign against the Saatchi bill has taken a lot of my time, but along this journey I have learned a huge amount, met some lovely people, and made what I hope will be lifelong friendships (to my surprise, some of them were even lawyers). This campaign has shown me some of the worst human frailties but some of the most life-affirming traits as well. There are a lot of caring people out there. Thank you all.

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One Response to “It’s All Over Now”

  1. Cardinal Fang March 6, 2015 at 7:10 pm #

    Well done to everyone who worked so hard at stopping the bill.

    If I ever find out your secret identities, I’ll buy you a pint.

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