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Saturday 22nd October 2016

NHS not ready for personalised medicine

19th August 2011

The UK Government's chief genetics advisor, Sir John Bell, has revealed that medicine tailored to patients’ genetics is ready to use now and has been for some time. In an interview with The Times Sir John described how patients could be treated with drugs which are the most effective for their own genetic makeup, including diseases as critical as cancer. The treatment also has the ability to trace the origin of MRSA outbreaks and diagnose unknown illnesses.

One recent case saw the condition of a four-year-old girl diagnosed by having her entire DNA code read. The diagnosis will ensure that the girl will have the educational support that she needs for her learning difficulty in the future.

The groundbreaking news of personalised medicine is somewhat overcast by a dark cloud, in the form of the capabilities of the NHS. According to Sir John, the NHS is ‘completely unprepared’ to provide genetics based healthcare. One key issue which is stalling the NHS in administering genetics based treatment is security related. At present, the NHS are unable to cope with safely storing huge amounts of sensitive, genetic data. Leaking such confidential data could cause insurance premiums of patients to rapidly increase.

Not only is personalised care being withheld from patients, but the technology could also be a financial asset to the country. For a start it could contribute to the Government’s NHS efficiency savings and ultimately save the British taxpayer money. Investment in such treatment could save the NHS considerable resources in the long-term by avoiding ineffective drugs and tests. However there seems to be a reluctance to invest in new technology even though in the long term it will undoubtedly save money. Many GPs and consultants are not aware of the huge benefits of DNA sequencing for their patients.

There are now increasing concerns that Britain will miss the opportunity to capitalise on a branch of science that it has established on home soil. There have also been demands for the NHS to seize the technology as a profit-making opportunity, thereby off-setting some of its financial difficulties.

A glimmer of hope came last July when David Cameron met with genetic experts to discuss making genetic medicine an everyday norm for the NHS. Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer also told the Times that the Government's NHS reforms would address the genetic medicine issue and said that the technology had already been initiated in research hospitals.

It seems that those wanting more effective treatment for their illnesses will have to wait a little longer for the NHS to catch up.


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