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Genomics England comes out of hibernation

It has recently begun advertising for a communications director. But why would a serious effort to improve public health need to fret about public relations?

Photo: Simon Dawson/PA Archive/PA Images

Thirteen years and £2bn of public money on from its launch, Genomics England had been largely forgotten until Mandrake had the temerity to inquire last week what use it served – beyond, of course, making a few quid for David Cameron’s paymasters at the American gene sequencing giant Illumina.

The piece has, however, spurred the outfit into action – it has just begun advertising for a communications director to put the best possible gloss on things. Why would a serious effort to improve public health need to be fretting about public relations?

Genomics England was going to “revolutionise healthcare” by reading the genetic codes of 100,000 NHS patients, but it has been a “pie in the sky” project that has diverted public money and resources to private companies when the health service has never been under greater pressure. The great medical breakthroughs promised have proved elusive, and now I hear City whispers that it is about to be sold off before too long to a private company that would be interested only in monetising its data. Tellingly, the advertisement stresses “the ideal candidate will have strong experience in both public and private sector communications, in complex and politically nuanced environments”.

There are so many aspects to Cameron’s record on public health that are depressing – one thinks of the Lansley reforms and the Cancer Drugs Fund (which failed to deliver meaningful value to patients and society) – and, worse still, his old mate Professor Sir John Bell now has another massive “research programme” on the blocks called Our Future Health.

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