You'll Soon Be Able To Pay For Gene Tests On The NHS

By Holly Brockwell on at

The NHS doesn't tend to offer paid-for services, but has made an exception for the increasingly popular genetic sequencing.

You can already have your genes sequenced by companies like 23 & Me and Ancestry, and now the NHS is getting into the market.

You'll soon be able to pay an as-yet unknown price to get the National Health to dig into your genetic code and find all the interesting bits -- as long as you agree to share the resulting data.

While that will no doubt alarm some people, the likelihood of the NHS plugging your code into a human 3D printer and flooding the market with counterfeit versions of you is pretty slim. They want the information for a large, anonymised database of genomes to develop better medical treatments.

Health secretary Matt Hancock says:

"There are huge benefits to sequencing as many genomes as we can.

Every genome sequenced moves us a step closer to unlocking life-saving treatments."

Which sounds pretty laudable, but as with anything gene-related, there are concerns -- both over what will happen to the data (the NHS doesn't have the best record here -- remember care.data?) and how it will affect the NHS.

Dr Anneke Lucassen, chair of the British Society for Genetic Medicine, tells the BBC:

"The NHS has always been free at the point of delivery. [This scheme] has the potential to create a two-tier system.

[...]You can use genetic code to confirm a clinical picture, but you can't use it to predict what will happen in the future very accurately."


Nonetheless, it looks like the scheme -- run by a new NHS-owned company called Genomic England -- is going ahead. Participants will get a health report telling them about their genetic medical background and whether they're at higher risk for certain cancers or conditions like Alzheimer's.

Would you pay the NHS to sequence your genes? Would you rather use a government-linked service than a for-profit one, or vice-versa? Let us know in the comments, we're fascinated by how this is going to turn out.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash