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Get ready for genomics in health visiting

18th March 2020

During #GenomicsConversation (a national week of action to get healthcare professionals talking about genomics 16-20 March), we are delighted to share a guest blog by Dr Jessica Myring, Principal Genetic Counsellor, Leicester Clinical Genetics Service on the genomics revolution and health visiting.

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Dr Jessica Myring, Principal Genetic Counsellor, Leicester Clinical Genetics Service





Over the past 20 years there have been huge advances in genetics, and now the so-called ‘genomics revolution’ is well under way. But what does this mean for health visitors?

Genomics is the study of the genome, which includes all the DNA, not just the genes. It is now possible to efficiently sequence or ‘read’ a human genome in about a day – a huge technological leap forward. The interpretation of that sequence and its clinical significance takes a bit more time, but on the whole this presents a significant opportunity for healthcare. The potential benefits include improved diagnostic and treatment outcomes and support for a wide range of disease prevention strategies.

Integrating into routine healthcare

The NHS is currently promoting a unified national agenda for mainstreaming of genomics across healthcare settings, with a view to making genomics part of routine patient care.

As such, it is now widely accepted that genomics is a necessary and developing part of wider healthcare practice and therefore health visitors, as well as their nursing and midwifery colleagues, will benefit from understanding underlying concepts in genetics and genomics, and recognising how this impacts their practice.

“Genomics is not tomorrow. It’s here today. I believe genomic services should be available to more patients, whilst being a cost-effective service in the NHS. This is exciting science with the potential for fantastic improvements in prevention, health protection and patient outcomes.”

– Generation Genome, the annual report of the Chief Medical Officer, 2016

The importance of health visitors

Health visitors are uniquely placed in close, trusting relationships with patients and their families, and therefore have an opportunity to start the conversation about genomics with families and to contribute to delivering genomic healthcare in a wide variety of ways.

Health visitors may be able to help recognise when a child or their family might benefit from genomic testing; for example, when a child in their care has an undiagnosed condition that might benefit from a referral to clinical genetics. They might also be able to help by signposting families to access other specialist genomic services, such as cancer screening and management programmes, prenatal testing, and investigating a family history through genomic counselling.

Upskilling the workforce

A wide variety of up-to-date genomics resources and educational materials for health professionals can be found on the Genomics Education Programme website, part of Health Education England.

More specifically, we would like to introduce a new collaboration between the Institute of Health Visiting, the Genomics Education Programme and Leicester Clinical Genetics department. Together, we are producing a series of genomics Good Practice Points (GPP) for health visitors. These GPPs are being designed to support health visitors by explaining genomics and exploring how health visitors might be able to engage with genomics with the children and families they support.

These new resources will give health visitors plenty of examples of how genomics might come up in practice, advise on what support is out there and how to find it, and help health visitors to access information so they can upskill in genomics to support their practice.

The new Genomics GPPs will be published in the very near future, so keep an eye out on the iHV website for this.

Dr Jessica Myring, Principal Genetic Counsellor, Leicester Clinical Genetics Service

More about Genomics week of action 2020

Throughout this week a number of free activities are taking place both on and offline and across the different regions. These include the launch of two new myth-busting podcasts co-produced with the RCNi and the Genetics Society.

In addition, there will be a selection of myth-busting blog posts, the ever-popular week of action quiz and a new ‘Ask an Expert’ day, where nurses can ask our nurse expert to answer their genomics questions.

At the end of the week, they are asking people to post a pledge on social media to learn more, or share what they know about genomics with their colleagues. To show your support can you please share your pledge at the end of the week, perhaps using the template on the Myth-busting pledge postcard. Don’t forget to copy the Genomics team in (@genomicsedu) and use #GenomicsConversation so they can see and share your pledge too.

Join the conversation