New genetics advisory role for NHS laboratory scientists

30 July 2009

UK National Health Service (NHS) laboratory scientists are to receive new training to equip them to advise health professionals on the purpose and interpretation of genetic tests. Department of Health chief scientific officer Dr Sue Hill is quoted in the Times newspaper as having said that “Genetic scientists may actually start to sit in clinics with medics and play a key role, explaining to patients what the results are showing. This isn’t about scientists replacing medics, it’s about working together in a team” (see Times report). Scientists could be asked to help interpret the results of private genome scans or advise on pharmacogenomic testing to direct treatment decisions.

There has been increasing recognition of the growing role of genomics across different fields of medicine and the need for change within the health service, as evinced by the recent House of Lords report on Genomic Medicine (see previous news); for example, the need to incorporate useful forms of genetic testing into healthcare, along with improved understanding of genetics among health professionals.

Health Minister Ann Keen announced a new £4.5 million pilot training scheme to enhance training for healthcare scientists in genetic technologies and clinical applications. The aim is to create the capacity for scientists to ‘respond to breakthrough scientific advances and their applications for patients and the public’ (see press release). This pilot, part of the UK Modernising Scientific Careers (MSC) programme, establishes a national School of Genetics in the West Midlands and will begin later this year, with a view to subsequent national implementation. Training will include new preparation for direct interaction between scientists and patients.

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