The UK Government's advisory body on new developments in human genetics faces an uncertain future after it appeared on a leaked list of 177 quangos facing Government review and abolition. Members of the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) received an email on Friday from the Department of Health (DH) apologising for the leak in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, but not contradicting its substance.
BioNews has seen the email from Mr Colin Pavelin, Head of Advanced Therapies and Genetics at the DH. In it, Mr Pavelin says the Department 'deeply regret[s] any concern that this irresponsible leak has caused' and that Professor Jonathan Montgomery, Chair of the HGC 'will shortly receive a letter from the Department about the review's recommendations'.
The email continues: 'Following the publication of the review shortly, more detailed consideration will need to be made, for HGC as with many other bodies, about how the changes will be implemented, what any replacement provision will look like and how it will be delivered'.
According to one HGC member, the email was the first time they'd heard the HGC was under threat since they hadn't seen the media coverage. 'The letter is all we know', they told BioNews. 'The commission doesn't know themselves what is happening because it is being done at a higher level than the commission team'.
Should the HGC close, it would be a 'significant loss', they told BioNews: 'It [the HGC] has a wide-ranging remit on issues of concern to the public, which are not tackled by anyone else. Our remit is specifically about giving advice to Government and we have an opening that other bodies don't have', they said.
But Mr Alastair Kent, Director of Genetic Alliance UK and a HGC member is unsurprised the quango is in the firing line. 'Although it's disappointing because [the HGC] makes a helpful contribution to the debate about genomics in society, I find it difficult to be surprised', he told BioNews. 'If you're in a mind to get rid of [quangos], the HGC is just the sort of thing you'd get rid of because it's not a statutory body, it just gives advice. Other bodies like the HFEA deliver regulatory functions'.