Speaking at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle on Thursday, Health Secretary Alan Milburn MP announced government initiatives on issues raised by emerging genetic technologies. This was the first major speech on genetics by a Health Secretary.
He confirmed that the Government will put in place a moratorium on the use of genetic test results by insurance companies if this was recommended by the Human Genetics Commission. The Commission is currently looking into the social and ethical issues involved in the use of genetic test results by insurers and is expected to produce a draft report in June.
Speaking of a 'genetics revolution', Milburn then challenged the NHS to make sure that genetics advances are passed on to patients. He announced a £30 million spending plan designed to ensure better genetic services, including the introduction of a screening test to identify women who carry a gene linked to increased risk of breast cancer.
His '5-point plan' includes promises that the number of specialist genetic consultants will double by 2006, the number of other scientists and technicians working in genetics in the NHS will rise by 500, and the number of genetic counsellors in the NHS will rise by at least 150. He also pledged that two new specialist national laboratories will be set up, and that NHS genetics services will be reorganised into a single, national network to ensure all patients receive the same level of services.
Finally, he announced plans to ensure that Britain 'remains on the cutting edge of genetic technology', both in terms of science and NHS treatment. He stated that the Government is to provide £10 million for a Genetics Knowledge Challenge Fund, which will establish four genetics knowledge parks with the aim of bringing together clusters of scientific and medical expertise.