Free NHS vital in the era of genetic medicine

8 October 2014

The Medical Director of NHS England  has said that the advent of genetic medicine will make a tax-payer funded, free at the point of care National Health Service “more important than ever”.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh told the Independent newspaper in an interview that genomic data would provide new insight into individuals’ innate risks of different diseases, information that under an insurance-based private health system would condemn them to greatly increased premiums (or even, presumably, refusal of coverage for certain conditions).

In the US, fears of this kind have led to the enactment of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which places legal prohibitions on discrimination on the basis of genetic information for health insurance and employment. In the UK, amidst intense debate over how the NHS can bridge a looming £30 billion shortfall in future years, at least one senior NHS leader has used efforts to implement genomic medicine as further evidence to support the ongoing importance of free health care, saying: “The concept of a healthcare system based on pooled sharing of risk is now more important than ever…We must preserve that at all costs because the emerging science will dictate that our NHS is more fit for the future than almost any other healthcare system in the world”.

The UK government funded 100,000 Genomes Project is well underway, with an announcement on the selection of the first potential NHS Genomic Medicine Centres expected soon. Sir Bruce chairs the Genomics Clinical Advisory Group, which is intended to support NHS England in maximising the clinical benefits of the project and advise on preparing the NHS for the mainstream introduction of genomic medicine.

The project is intended not only to embed genomic and personalised medicine firmly within the NHS, delivering improved healthcare and ‘leaving a lasting  legacy for patients’, but also to support economic growth by promoting the UK’s position as a global leader in biomedical research and development.

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