• Hancock announces bid to expand genomics programme to 1m genomes
  • Funding will come from NHS long term plan and charity UK Biobank
  • Seriously ill children and patients with rare cancers will be sequenced on the NHS
  • As HSJ reported last week, delivery of regional genetics hubs has been held up

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has announced an expansion of the 100,000 genomes project, saying the NHS will sequence one million genomes within five years.

In a speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham today, the health and social care secretary said he wanted to make the service available to all on the NHS, with a “long term vision” to sequence five million genomes.

A party spokesman told HSJ half the funding for the project would come from the NHS long term settlement, and half from the charity UK Biobank, which has a separate funding stream.

The announcement coincides with the launch of the new NHS Genomic Medicine Service, which Mr Hancock said is “rolling out access to genomic testing”.

He added: “For everyone with a rare cancer, and for all seriously ill children, it’ll be available on the NHS. So we’ll have tailor-made treatments and tailor-made drugs that are the best fit for a patient, not a best guess.”

The initial project, led by NHS England, was to sequence 100,000 genomes. Participants are NHS patients with a rare disease, plus their families, and patients with cancer.

As reported by HSJ last week, there have been delays to an important aspect of the national body’s genetics’ work, in terms of commissioning new contracts for seven regional genetic testing hubs.

According to trusts involved in the process, NHS England had intended to award contracts in June 2018, but the procurement process was still ongoing late last month.

The hubs are designed to rationalise the current network of genetic testing laboratories, which are spread across a wider range of providers.

The intention is to improve equality of access to routine DNA tests and the quality and cost of screening. The hubs would provide routine diagnosis of rare genetic conditions, DNA sequencing of cancer tumours and, in the future, enable the use of personalised medicine tailored to an individual’s genetic makeup.

Mr Hancock also announced additional funding for social care this winter, and spoke briefly about integration.

He said more care should be provided in the community, adding: “What I mean by this is that the era of moving all activity into fewer larger hospitals and blindly, invariably, closing community hospitals….that is over.”