The UK’s ‘Hermit Kingdom’ Approach to Emerging Technologies

It’s not just nanotechnologies that the UK seems to be struggling to adopt, but genomics as well according to this morning’s Times. It is a worrying development that raises the question about how innovation happens in the UK.

The Government’s Chief Genetics Advisor, Sir John Bell identifies four  “mountain ranges” that block innovation.

Short-termism among managers makes them reluctant to buy new technology that will ultimately save money. Evaluations of the cost-effectiveness of genetic tests take too narrow a view of patient benefit, GPs and consultants are often unaware of how DNA sequencing could help their patients, and NHS procurement policy gives industry too few incentives to match new technology to clinical needs.”

I would add a fifth, fear of controversy. Whether nanotechnology, genomics or any other area of emerging technology fears about public opinion, ethics and data protection always seem to take precedence over the technologies themselves. So while according to the Times “David Cameron has taken a personal interest in putting genetics at the centre of NHS treatment and diagnosis of cancer and rare diseases” between the Prime Minister and any action are teams of civil servants scrutinising the idea for the merest whiff of controversy.

Richard Jones at the University of Sheffield has his own worries about UK research and innovation, and it does seem that when it comes to emerging technologies the UK is beaming somewhat of a ‘Hermit Kingdom” with little interest in evaluating or taking advantage of the opportunities created.

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