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NHS faces privacy storm over plan to store thousands of patients' DNA to help develop life-saving treatments
07:36 GMT, 10 December 2012
The Government insists the DNA records will be stored anonymously and patients will be able to opt out if they have concerns
Plans to create a database of the DNA records of thousands of Health Service patients were denounced by privacy campaigners yesterday.
David Cameron, who will announce the proposal today, claims it would be a vital resource for scientists and allow them to develop life-saving treatments for cancer and other illnesses.
But the campaigners warn it could lead to sensitive personal details being passed to private companies.
An individual’s DNA can reveal whether they are at particular risk of certain illnesses, including breast cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
There are concerns that insurance companies will use these details to raise a customer’s premium and other firms will use them for marketing purposes.
The Government insists the DNA records will be stored anonymously and patients will be able to opt out if they have concerns.
But Nick Pickles, of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘If private companies want access to our medical records then they should ask. It’s wholly wrong for this to be an opt-out scheme.
‘Assurances of anonymity have been hollow in other countries. It’s only a matter of time before insurance companies or marketing people try to use the data.’
Dr Helen Wallace, of campaign group Genewatch, said the proposal would be ‘a gravy train’ for IT firms and private healthcare.
She added: ‘This Big Brother project will allow every individual and their relatives to be identified and tracked.’
Over the next few years Mr Cameron hopes that an initial 100,000 patients will be asked to have their DNA de-coded and stored.
The project involves a number of government departments and he is keen to put Britain at the forefront of such technologies.
He said: ‘This plan will mean we are the first country in the world to use DNA codes in the mainstream of the health service.
‘We could transform how we diagnose and treat our most complex diseases…while enabling our best scientists to discover the next wonder drug.’
David Cameron, who will announce the proposal today, claims the records will be a vital resource for scientists