Genetic services in GP surgeries

GPs need to be supported by specialist genetics services to improve the way genetic concepts are communicated to patients, UK research has revealed.

A pilot study, trialled in Nottingham, found that the use of genetic counsellors had a positive impact, with all of the GPs involved in the study recommending the use of genetic counsellors nationwide.

It has been acknowledged that clinical genetic services will not be able to cope with demand.

The Scottish Executive pledged £10 million extra for genetics in primary care earlier this year

The DoH has said that GPs will have an expanding role to play in relation to genetic issues.

For the study, tailored genetic educational outreach was delivered by a genetic counsellor to 10 randomly selected practices in central England for 12 months.

A range of genetic services was provided by the counsellor, including an advice service to help explain genetic risk to couples expecting a child, which may include cystic fibrosis, and referral guidelines for familial breast and ovarian cancer.

The service provided by the counsellor was then evaluated using pre- and post-intervention questionnaires and via seven structured interviews.

In total, all of the 38 GPs involved in the study were very positive about the genetic counsellor. All felt that they had gained knowledge. A number of GPs added that by taking part in the study, limitations and gaps in their current knowledge of genetics had been identified.

Lead researcher Nicola Drury, a genetic counsellor from the Nottingham Regional Clinical Genetics Service, said that one in 10 patients seen in primary care had a disorder with a genetic component.

'The role that GPs play in genetics is likely to expand alongside the advances in genetics. GPs have indicated that they are willing to expand their role in relation to genetic issues if adequate support and training are provided', she said.

However there is evidence to show that, at present, GPs lack the confidence, knowledge and skills to undertake this effectively, she said.

A larger scale study is currently being developed, added Ms Drury.

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