Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nothing has changed - Part 2

Let us continue with our survey of were we stand within the European Union. Here is an interesting comment from the Second Reading of Lord Pearson's Bill in the House of Lords on November 25, which you will find if you scroll down to the very end Column 1239, where Lord Kakkar is speaking:
I will concentrate on two areas: the European working time regulation and its impact on the training of young doctors and other healthcare professionals in our country; and the impact of the clinical trials and data protection directives on our ability to conduct high-quality clinical research. On the European working time regulation, there has been extensive review and discussion about its potential implications. Its purpose is well recognised, but the unintended consequences with regard to the practice of medicine are not always so well recognised.

If the working time regulation had provided demonstrable evidence of an improvement in clinical quality, the safety of patients and the training of our young doctors and other healthcare professionals, it would be a very reasonable regulation to adopt and apply to the practice of medicine in our country. However, there is little evidence that the regulation restricting hours of work to 48 per week and applying to medical practitioners in training has achieved those objectives.

Clearly there are differences between different disciplines in medicine. The craft disciplines of surgical practice such as my own require a high level of exposure to large numbers of cases in order to develop technical skills, and also a broad ongoing continuity of management of patients to develop the judgment necessary for ultimate independent consultant practice.

The Royal College of Surgeons has taken a keen interest in the potential impacts of the working time regulation on surgical training in our country. In 2010 it produced a report that looked at the potential cost implications of the application of the working time regulation with regard to surgical training. In the two years prior to the introduction of the working time regulation, it collected data using freedom of information requests that were responded to by 96 acute NHS trusts, and extrapolated the findings to the 160 acute trusts where surgical training takes place. It concluded that in the year of introduction of the working time regulation, expenditure on locum costs to cover rotas as a result of the regulation increased from some £540 million a year to £750 million-an increase of more than £200 million.

That was across the board. When the royal college looked at surgical locums, it concluded that costs increased from £170 million a year to £230 million-an extra £60 million spent on locums as a result of the application of the working time regulation restricting surgical trainees to working 48 hours a week. It also tried to determine the number of surgical hours lost per month as a result of the restriction to a 48-hour working week and concluded that some 400,000 surgical hours a month were lost as a result of the restriction. If we were paying this price for achieving an improvement in clinical care or in training, it might be completely justifiable. However, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Association of Surgeons in Training concluded that that was not the case.

The second area is the impact of European directives and regulations on the conduct of clinical research in our country. Twelve per cent of the global citations in clinical and healthcare research are of publications from United Kingdom institutions and nearly one-quarter of the 100 leading medicines in the world have been developed in our country. Biomedical research is therefore hugely important to our economy and in terms of what we can do for our own people as well as for others around the world. In January a working group at the Academy of Medical Sciences chaired by Sir Michael Rawlins published a report, entitled A new Pathway for the Regulation and Governance of Health Research,which looked at ways of ensuring that we remain competitive. It concluded that the European clinical research directive has had a detrimental impact on the conduct of clinical research in our country. The directive was introduced for good reasons-to improve ethical standards and to ensure consistency of data and, ultimately, to ensure that patients are strongly protected in all clinical research-but there have been unintended consequences which have made the approval of clinical trials much slower and the conduct of clinical trials less effective. It has also increased the cost of doing clinical trials, so much so that, in 2000, 6 per cent of all patients going into clinical trials globally came from our country while, by 2006, the number had fallen to only 2 per cent of patients going into clinical trials. That has a very serious impact on our ability to function in that area.

These conclusions were also confirmed by your Lordships' Science and Technology Committee in its second report for Session 2008-09, on genomic medicine, chaired by my noble friend Lord Patel. It also concluded that it would be important for Her Majesty's Government to review the working of the clinical trial directive and the data protection directive, which were having a detrimental impact on the conduct of clinical research in our country. I know that the Government are keenly aware of these important issues and that they are trying to address them. If a committee were established to look at the benefits and costs of our membership of European Union, consideration of the impact of European regulation on the conduct of research and the training of our doctors are important topics that should be considered.
I quoted most of Lord Kakkar's speech because it is about important matters that do not get aired frequently enough in public and because what he says shows our impotence in the face of EU regulation, whether it comes in the form of Directives or Regulations.

In his reply Lord Sassoon skated over the problems raised [half-way down Column 1256]:
The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, referred to another area of great strength for the UK: our world-beating excellence in clinical research. He made some telling points but, on the broad point about working time regulations, I stress that the Government are committed to the view that working people should decide the hours that they work, and we will continue to make that abundantly clear to the European Commission.
Very nice, too, but how is this world-beating excellence to be preserved and developed with the insane regulations that are destroying it?

Lord Pearson said in his final summary [towards the end of Column 1258]:
I think the Minister agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, about the working time directive and other European legislation that is damaging our National Health Service. He said that he would continue to press the Commission on this point. My final question to the Minister is: what is the point of the United Kingdom continuing to press the Commission on these and other burdens that come from Brussels? With 8 per cent of the votes in the Council, there is nothing that we can do to reverse them and we will not do so.
Quite so. Has that changed at all in the last few days? I think not.

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