US companies Optum and McKinsey are driving NHS genomics

Recently Matt Hancock announced that the Dept of Health and Genomics England are planning a pilot next year where parents will be asked whether they want their babies’ genomes tested. This was promptly rubbished as unethical and medically pointless, for example in articles in the New Scientist and the British Medical Journal.

This is not the first time Matt Hancock’s boosterism about genetic testing has had to be corrected by people who know what they’re talking about. In March 2019, the Science Media Centre felt the need to set the record straight by pointing out Hancock’s misleading claims.

Update 2.12.21

As plans are announced for an NHS pilot study in which up to 200,000 UK babies’ genomes will be sequenced and analysed, scientists have raised concerns that the scheme seems designed to create valuable dataset rather than improve screening

So who or what is driving this nonsense?

It turns out to be the usual suspects.

Art Swanson, a Vice President of Product Management at Optum, speaking at a Business of Healthcare Conference in the States, says he

“has been focused on supporting Genomics England and the NHS in the development and deployment of a National Genomic Medicine Service for the UK.”

He’s not the only Optum executive “supporting” Genomics England. A quick online search also discovered one Dan Stocker who, while a Senior Director IT at United Health, had “Service Ownership Responsibilities at Optum” that included:

“Agile Capability, Program Manager, and Product Owner for several new services [including]:Genomics England – Optum Service delivery to help enable more efficient and secure human genome processing”.

And then there is Chris Bailey, Associate Director – Analytic products and solutions at Optum, who is

“UK product lead for genomics, working with a large team of technologists to align our delivery to the needs of our client, delivering in parallel with multiple other vendors, as part of programme of work with Genomics England.”

These are straws in the wind – to get a complete picture of Optum’s role in Genomics England, I’ve sent an FOI request to Genomics England. This asks for exact details of any and all Optum contracts and employment of Optum staff, and a record of and and all meetings concerning Genomics England, between successive Health Secretaries and Optum representatives. Genomics England say they’ll reply by 7 Jan 2020.

Update 17.1.2020 – Genomics England FOI reply

“We entered into a contract with Optum Health Solutions (UK) Limited on 22 March 2018 following a procurement using the NHS England Lead Provider Framework for various services relating to the Informatics platform we are building for the NHS Genomic Medicine Service.  We have since then carried out a number of Contract Changes under that contract as follows:

  • CCN 01 13/5/2018
  • CCN 02 1/7/2018
  • CCN 03 15/11/2018
  • CCN 04 9/2/2019
  • CCN 05 18/3/2019
  • CCN 06 9/4/2019
  • CCN 07 17/7/2019
  • CCN 08 16/12/2019
  • CCN 09 16/12/2019

“We do not employ any Optum staff.”

“We do not hold any information about meetings between Ministers and Optum representatives and your request should be redirected to the Secretary of State for Health.”

I am writing back to ask for a copy of the Optum contract, which Genomics England initially said they were “working on providing.”

NHS Optumisation

Optum is a subsidiary of the world’s largest health insurance company United Health – the former employer of NHS England boss, Simon Stevens. Its fingers are dug deep in the NHS pie. You can find more info here on the extensive Optumisation of our NHS.

McKinsey – NHS revolving door

The global management consultancy company McKinsey has been shaping the NHS in its own interests and that of its corporate clients since since Alan Milburn got his hands on the Department of Health as Blair’s Secretary of State.

The wide and constantly spinning revolving door between McKinsey and the NHS recently admitted two former McKinsey employees to top postions in Genomics England.

Chris Wrigley, a former McKinsey partner and Chief Operating Officer of a McKinsey company, QuantumBlack, has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of Genomics England.

According to a 2015 news item on the Consultancy UK website,

The acquisition of QuantumBlack by McKinsey Solutions, the data analytics arm of the global firm, will see the company become a wholly owned subsidiary of the world’s leading strategy consulting practice.
The deal is the firm’s fourth acquisition of 2015, in line with a strategy to bring new tools, technologies, and capabilities to McKinsey clients, says Daniel Pacthod leader of McKinsey’s New Ventures unit: “Clients are asking us for more than just advice. We’re building some terrific new capabilities organically and we’re actively looking for partnerships or acquisitions where it makes sense.”

Ex-McKinsey consultant and former Chair of the government quango NHS Improvement, Tory Baroness Dido Harding has recently been appointed interim Chair of Genomics England. Apart from her time at NHS Improvement and McKinsey, she has had a variety of corporate jobs: Chief Executive of TalkTalk Telecom Group plc from 2010 to May 2017, Sainsbury’s convenience director from 200, and before that a variety of senior roles in Tesco’s UK and international businesses as well as “considerable retail experience” at Kingfisher plc and Thomas Cook Limited.

Who benefits?

The heavy USA corporate involvement in Genomics England seriously raises the question of who is to benefit from its publicly-funded work. The public? Or surveillance capital corporations feeding off the incomparably rich medical data of our NHS?

Surveillance capitalism

Defined by Shoshana Zuboff as “a coup from above…the overthrow of the people’s sovereignty”, Surveillance Capitalism is:

A new economic order that claims human experience as free raw material for hidden commercial practices of extraction, prediction and sales;

A parasitic economic logic in which the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new global architecture of behavioural modification;

A rogue mutation of capitalism marked by concentrations of wealth, knowledge, and power unprecedented in human history;

The foundational framework of a surveillance economy;

As significant a threat to human nature in the twenty-first century as industrial capitalism was to the natural world in the nineteenth and twentieth;

The origin of a new instrumentarian power that asserts dominance over society and presents startling challenges to market democracy;

A movement that aims to impose a new collective order based on total certainty;

An expropriation of critical human rights that is best understood as a coup from above: an overthrow of the people’s sovereignty

The Definition – in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Shoshana Zuboff (2019), Profile Books, London.

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