NHS to offer user-pay genetic testing

The UK’s National Health Service plans roll out a new two-tier genetic testing service, in a move that has raised concerns among genetics experts.

The announcement was made late last month by British Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock, who said that the UK plans to lead the world on genomic sequencing.

“Genomics has the potential to transform healthcare and I’m really proud that the UK is leading the world,” he said, adding that “seriously ill children and adults with genetic conditions, including cancer, will be offered DNA analysis as part of their routine care [from this year onward]”.

A genomics test will also be offered to healthy people who are willing to pay. Consumers will have their DNA analysed by NHS scientists in an attempt to predict the patient’s risk of developing various conditions, including cancer and dementia. The data from the tests will be anonymised and used by researchers to help develop treatments for genetic conditions.

“There are huge benefits to sequencing as many genomes as we can – every genome sequenced moves us a step closer to unlocking life-saving treatments”, Mr Hancock said.

In December last year the Government’s 100,000 Genomes Project announced that it had reached its goal of sequencing 100,000 human genomes.  

There is, however, concern about a lack of genetic literacy among consumers. It is unclear whether people who receive the new test will routinely be offered counselling to deal with the contents of the reports they receive.

Anneke Lucassen, the chairwoman of the British Society for Genetic Medicine, told The Times: “There is still a lot of misunderstanding of what whole-genome sequencing can deliver. There is a view that it will give you clear clinical predictions and, most of the time, it will not.”

Some are concerned as to whether the NHS can be trusted to hold such sensitive data securely after a number of previous scandals including a scrapped plan to share GP records with private firms.

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | genetic testing, nhs, uk

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