NHS changes 'will delay cancer checks': Sufferers from genetic diseases 'may be denied new treatments'

WOMEN at risk of inherited breast cancer will not receive proper screening 'for years' even though researchers expect to identify the relevant gene within months, one of the country's foremost clinical geneticists warned yesterday.

The problem is the Government's changes to the National Health Service, as a result of which many people suffering from genetic diseases may be denied powerful new treatments, according to Professor Malcolm Ferguson-Smith of Cambridge University.

Despite repeated attempts by civil servants to cut him short, Professor Ferguson-Smith told a press conference yesterday of his 'fear that preventive medicine will lose out' in the new NHS. He warned that the 14 regional genetics centres in England and Wales could close. It would be more difficult to provide genetics services under the new system whereby individual hospitals fulfil contracts to be 'providers' of medical services which GPs and other 'purchasers' buy.

Professor Ferguson-Smith said: 'We are now thinking of breast cancer screening. We do not have the infrastructure in the present system to handle that and I can't see funds coming from the purchaser-providers to make it happen.' Once the gene is discovered, he expects that women in families with a history of the disease would come forward for testing but under the new system, he warned, 'to get the grants to do it will take years. Yet these are anxious women who need counselling and advice'.

Research into genetic disease could also be adversely affected by the changes. The existing NHS system had allowed the development of a unique set of records of patients with genetic disorders, which was proving invaluable to researchers hunting the genes responsible for human disease.

Professor Ferguson-Smith's comments echo the fears of support groups for families affected by genetic diseases. The support groups have been worried for some time that elementary treatment - such as genetic counselling - might be threatened by the internal market reforms of the NHS.

Professor Kay Davies, who heads the Medical Research Council's Clinical Sciences Centre, also told yesterday's press conference that the collection of clinical data for genetics studies was 'extremely well organised and needs to be protected against changes in the NHS'. However, Professor Davies was more hopeful: she pointed out that the Department of Health has set up an internal study group to examine the problem.

A Department of Health spokesman dismissed the fears. He said: 'This is ridiculous. The reorganisation of the regional health authorities will have no effect on funding of this kind. Applications will be considered on their merits as they always have been.'

Last November, the Department of Health set up a research task force under Professor Anthony Culyer of York University to review ways in which the NHS funds its research and development. The task force is is expected to report to ministers by the end of the month.

Geneticists expect to see huge numbers of disease-related genes being discovered as a result of an international research programme, known as the Human Genome Project. Britain is one of the leaders in this research which will map out and analyse every one of humanity's 50,000 to 100,000 genes.

Professor Davies headed a group of independent geneticists which yesterday launched a report on how British prowess in gene research can be maintained and developed.

The Human Genome Mapping Project in the UK; HMSO; pounds 9.95.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments