Hancock calls for more genomic counsellors to explain DNA technology


The health secretary has said in a speech that the NHS needs to recruit more genomic counsellors to train doctors and nurses about DNA testing technology so they can explain the impact clearly to patients in the future.

Speaking at The Royal Society event on 20 March, Matt Hancock’s call for more counsellors will form part of the National Genomics Healthcare Strategy.

He said: “How do we train up doctors and nurses so they understand genetic data and are able to explain it in a way that people make the best decisions.

“We want to encourage people to take better care of themselves because that means we can prevent problems from arising and save the NHS time and money in the long-term.

“But if we’re going to expand this technology then we also need to get enough genetic counsellors into the NHS so they can help people with those difficult dilemmas and decisions.

“Because this isn’t just about physical health, but mental health. For some people there will be a big psychological impact from finding out news they weren’t prepared for.”

The secretary of state for health and social care has also called on the scientific community, charities, patients and clinicians to work with political leaders to develop an ethical framework to ensure patients can have confidence in the genomic technologies.

He said: “We must get predictive testing into the NHS as soon as we possibly can. I see it as a game-changer for cancer screening in the NHS and I’m determined that we harness this technology to save lives.

“I’ve been told we can currently only test for some cancers like prostate and breast cancer because the data on other cancers is locked away in research labs.

“Sometimes there are good ethical or scientific reasons and we have strict privacy rules in place to avoid sharing data that identifies patients without their consent.

“But sometimes it’s due to bureaucracy or because scientists don’t want to share their data.

“Data, funded by the British taxpayer, donated by the public, can’t be used for predictive testing because of bureaucratic blocking or a scientist wanting to have a monopoly: that’s an outrage.

“We will unlock that data. Because we must save lives. And I say this to any researcher, who is blocking data access: open up this data, publish or be damned.”

A review of the NHS’ cancer screening process is currently underway.

Led by Professor Sir Mike Richards, the review will recommended how the screening programmes can be upgraded to ensure patients and clinicians benefit from new technologies and treatments.

The final review is due to be published in the summer 2019.

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