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NHS may struggle to cope with personalised medicine

8 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 619

The NHS is 'unprepared' to deal with personalised medicine in the clinic, according to Sir John Bell - the UK Government's chief genetics advisor - during an interview with the Times. His comments come as a four-year-old girl last week became Britain's first person to have a rare genetic disease identified through DNA sequencing.

Sir John told the Times: 'There has already been a lot of innovation, almost none of which has been adopted by the NHS. There's now lots of evidence that the benefits we'll get from this will be at least very large, and could be enormous'.

He added: 'There's more than enough we could be doing here, but the NHS is completely unprepared. This is not the future any more: it is a technology of today'. Personalised medicine can identify rare undiagnosed diseases, determine which drugs will be most effective in treating cancer and track bacterial infections such as MRSA (Methicillin [Multidrug]-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), the Times reports.

According to this report, geneticists attended a two-hour seminar organised by the UK's Prime Minister David Cameron last month to offer advice on how the NHS can make genetic medicine routine.

Sir John said that the NHS lacked the infrastructure to store large amounts of sensitive genetic information safely. There are concerns this could lead to privacy breaches or insurers demanding access to people's results and pushing up insurance premiums.

In his interview Sir John also said that upfront investment in genetic technology could save the NHS money by reducing the need for clinical tests and stopping patients being given ineffective drugs.

Dame Sally Davies, the UK's Chief Medical Officer, told the Times that the Government's NHS reforms would address some of Sir John's concerns. Research hospitals are also starting to use new genetic technology, she said.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
All in the Genes
The Times |  3 August 2011
Revolution in genetics exposes NHS flaws
The Times |  3 August 2011
UK health service 'unprepared' for genomics
PHG foundation |  3 August 2011
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