This site is intended for health professionals only

The gene genie lives on his tech

Dr Pete Deveson BLOG Sq web duo


Predicting future disease through gene-testing is all the rage these days. Speaking at Pulse Live, the NHS England director of primary care, Nikki Kanani, told of her struggle to manage the expectations of proud parents who’d pitched up at her surgery to discuss the private genomic tests they’d ordered for their newborn daughter. Whether advertently or not, this reminded me of the health secretary, Matt Hancock, who found himself comprehensively pwned by UCL geneticist Professor David Curtis for displaying an ‘astonishing level of ignorance’ in his speech about using a commercial DNA test to assess his risk of cancer.

Referring to an imaginary prostate-testing programme that exists only in his own head, Mr Hancock said ‘I’m going to make sure I don’t miss any screening appointments in the future.’ In reality, his next scheduled NHS screening appointment is not due until 2039, when he will dutifully provide a sample of his shite for the NHS to inspect. Some might postulate that this process has already begun.

Given that Mr Hancock seems unable to engage with the NHS unless he’s promoting some private tech firm or other, I have been giving serious thought to teaching myself how to code an app in order to communicate with our Health Secretary. Perhaps an app which could tell him exactly how many doctors we’re missing while he plays about with his unevidenced gizmos – I’m thinking of calling it Voidshoutr. Or maybe an Inverse Care Law app, which immediately uninstalls itself on download, since by purchasing it you’ve proven yourself not to actually need it.

Referring to an imaginary prostate-testing programme that exists only in his own head

I can’t help but wonder whether we GPs should be taking genomics more seriously, given the risks we are passing on to our kids. I refer, of course, to the news that the children of doctors are 24 times more likely than their peers to become medics themselves. The LSE sociologists whose study made the headlines couched it in terms of hereditary societal privilege, but those of us who’ve actually worked in the 21st Century NHS know different. It’s more like you’re carrying a horrible genetic mutation, to be transferred as inexorably as Larkin’s coastal shelf onto the next cursed generation Huntingdon’s Career, if you will.

But who needs an app to tell the future when you have a blogger who can do it for you? In January, I foresaw that state-backed indemnity would turn out to be a mess, that Theresa May would resign in March, and that Jeremy Hunt (currently 7/1 to be our next Prime Minister) would take over. But wait! Who’s that lurking in the wings? None other than Matt Hancock, who in the greatest reallocation of meagre resources in desperate times since Matt Damon dug up his fellow astronauts’ discarded poos in order to grow spuds in The Martian, is being touted by some segments of the Tory party as an ideal leadership candidate. Who could have predicted that?

Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey. You can follow him on Twitter @PeteDeveson