Manchester hosts inaugural conference on ethics and disparities within modern healthcare

The rise and rise of medical technology is breaking down barriers in healthcare, but with a new wave of innovation comes a tide of ethical and legal questions that need to be answered.

Responding to this brave new world, The University of Manchester’s School of Law hosted a first-of-its-kind conference, bringing together some of the leading minds of bioethics and medical law to discuss ‘Healthcare disparities: Disruptive healthcare technologies and the patient’.

Disparities in healthcare refer to often-negative differences in healthcare provision between different population groups, such as race, age, socio-economic group and gender. Disruptive technologies such as virtual reality, 3D printing and digital communications offer the potential to level the playing field, but their usage introduces new legal and ethical questions for consideration.

‘Healthcare disparities’, which took place from 13-14 June 2019, squared delegates up to increasingly important issues facing medicine as the MedTech industry continues to grow, with regulation struggling to keep up with innovation in many cases.

Complementing the event, PGR students were invited to a special PGR workshop the day before the main event. Funding from the Society of Legal Scholars (SLS) gave the School of Law the opportunity to put together an expenses-covered day for PhD students, giving them the chance to present their research among peers. The PGR day was attended by Dr Mark Flear, University of Belfast, and Professor Margot Brazier, Emeritus Professor at the University of Manchester. The PGR delegates then joined their colleagues from all over the world for the conference proper.

Professor Nicolas Terry, from University of Indiana, gave the first keynote session with his paper 'How disruptive healthcare technologies should reduce health inequalities but probably will not: A transatlantic perspective on the regulation of healthcare AI', while the impact of Brexit was tackled by Tamara Hervey, Jean Monnet Professor of Law at the University of Sheffield.

On Friday 14 June, Professor Ian Freckelton QC, University of Melbourne, started off the day with his keynote paper ‘Changing dynamics in health practitioner-patient relationships and litigation’, exploring the changing relationships between doctor and patient as the law plays an increasingly influential role within healthcare.

Professor Mette Hartlev, University of Copenhagen, gave the second keynote presentation on Friday, discussing ‘Precision medicine, big data and health disparities - a patient's rights perspective’, exploring how big data is being used to improve our knowledge of treatment outcomes for different patient groups.

Concluding the event at a dinner on Friday evening, Professor Richard Ashcroft, Queen Mary University London, wrapped up with his speech 'Does disruptive have to mean unfair? Reflections on innovation, regulation and justice in healthcare technologies'.

This conference delegates the opportunity to consider the key legal and ethical questions posed by new medical technologies, and how new technologies can best be used for the benefit of all, reducing disparities between who has access to the best healthcare.

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