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GENETIC SCREENING FOR WORKERS: A PANACEA OR A PANDORA’S BOX?

To retain and attract top talent, a quarter of UK businesses would extend health screening into genetic testing – but fear of legal repercussions is an inhibiting factor for 76% of employers.

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Would genetic screening lead to discrimination?

With the price of full DNA testing plummeting, and in anticipation of personalised medicines fine-tuned to a patient’s genetic make-up, one in four (24%) UK businesses say that they are likely to extend health screening into genetic testing as they strive to retain and attract top talent, a new survey has found.

UK businesses could soon offer employees a complete readout of their genetic blueprint, and hence unprecedented insight into their current and future health, but, amidst all the excitement, Baroness Helena Kennedy, QC, Vice President of the Patients Association and former Chair of the Human Genetics Committee, urges businesses to consider the wider implications, suggesting that genetic screening of employees may be more of a Pandora’s box than a panacea.

More than 600 UK business leaders were questioned for the Astellas Innovation Debate 2015, which brings together a panel of world-renowned experts at The Royal Institution of Great Britain to discuss the implications of the revolutions in DNA and data for our health.

Currently, one in four (24%) business leaders say they would offer full genetic screening to their employees –though this rises to nearly a third (29%) in the IT and banking sectors, where talent often seems in short supply. But most employers (76%) the fear of legal repercussions is an inhibiting factor.

Of employers who said that their business would be unlikely to offer genetic screening to employees, 43% said they might reconsider their view in the future if better legislation were introduced to protect the rights of employers (19%) and employees (24%). 16% said they would re-consider their view if the results of genetic testing could serve to reduce the cost of key person insurance, while a further 16% said that businesses would need access to advice on dealing with employees found to be at higher genetic risk of developing serious illness. Only 5% said they might choose to offer genetic screening if their business could access genetic data from test results.

Other key findings:

  • Just 4% of business leaders support genetic screening of CEO’s and top management to ensure they are fit and healthy enough to do their job.
  • Businesses want to screen their employees for: Cancers and heart disease (38%); eye disease & blindness (27%); Alzheimer’s Disease (26%); kidney, liver and pancreas disease (25%); Parkinson’s Disease (24%) and mental illness (21%).
  • Only 16% of workers said they would be motivated to have genetic testing if it were offered by their employer.
  • 26% of workers would refuse a genetic test for fear of discrimination in the workplace
  • Just 6% would be happy for their employer to have access to their health data.

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