A public consultation on The Medical Innovation Bill ended on 25th April, and it is hoped that the outcome will lead to doctors being able to offer their patients – including those suffering with the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer – innovative treatment alternatives currently prohibited by law.

One of the tragic consequences of mesothelioma disease is the unusually long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years from initial asbestos exposure to the appearance of asbestosis symptoms. Too often a confirmed diagnosis is made when the cancer cells have spread to an advanced stage, and a subsequent procedure combined with radiotherapy and chemotherapy may only be sufficient to gain a precious few more months.

Advances in medical asbestos awareness of cellular behaviour and the impact of genetic research in recent years have produced a significant number of possible new avenues for asbestosis treatments beyond the standard applications. Innovative techniques arising from medical breakthroughs require considerable rigorous testing and it may take several years before a new treatment is allowed to be administered.

Constrained from offering other treatments

It is understandable that patients, their spouse and close family are often prepared to try new forms of treatment when the standard treatments seem to not produce the required results. Until now medical practitioners acting in the best interests of their patient have been constrained from offering other treatments out of fear of subsequent litigation if the treatment fails or causes unexpected and unforeseen consequences.

When a patient has exhausted all the known standard treatment methods and response is to little or no effect, it is inevitable that the question is asked if the doctor is trying everything he can and if there’s anything else that can be done.

Since February, government has been consulting on the proposed Bill, which proposes to codify the existing law, and thereby allow medical doctors, clinicians and surgeons who “follow the required transparent and accountable procedure”, to safely provide innovative treatments, with consent, for patients.

Overcome limitations imposed on doctors

The Medical Innovation Bill is designed to overcome some of the limitations imposed on doctors and allow greater freedom to safely and responsibly consider new treatments and ideas, with the consent of the patient. Under the proposed Bill, the option-only course of action must be explained carefully to the patient, including the likely risks, which could be unknown when a treatment is new. A multi-disciplinary team will also be called upon who may not all agree with the treatment option and the patient must be informed in order to make the decision whether to proceed.

This also means that as a result of all parties involved in a patient’s ongoing treatment and care being required to follow the required procedure before carrying out a new treatment method or drug, a ‘maverick’ doctor who fails to observe the rules and acts alone, will be clearly and easily identified.

Ensuring the patient’s interests remain firmly at the centre of any changes in the law is crucial. As is providing a lifeline of hope to mesothelioma sufferers by offering procedures and medications without fear of legal action.