Photo Credit: Andrew Brookes

Improving genomic literacy of front-line clinical staff is vital to realise the era of precision medicine. It seems there’s some work to do as the “vast majority” of NHS doctors are “not up to speed” with modern genetic techniques that can transform patients’ survival chances, a Government adviser has warned.

Professor Patrick Chinnery, a member of the Medical Research Council, said the pace of technical advance meant swathes of the workforce need extra training.

Genomics, and in particular whole genome sequencing (WGS), promise a revolution in personalised medicine that can flag an individual’s risk of disease and identify treatments most likely to work.

Health chiefs are embracing the science, with a large scale pilot currently running that will lead to a full-scale Genomics Medicine Service within the NHS.

But Professor Chinnery, a mitochondrial specialist at Cambridge University, told The Telegraph that while current medical students are being adequately trained, doctors above the age of 30 need to “get up to date”.

He said demonstrating a working knowledge of genomics could soon be a condition of the re-licensing process all doctors go through every five years.

It means those unable to update their knowledge of what was previously a specialist discipline could face losing their licence to practise.

“All doctors will need to be able to understand when to use genomic testing and how to interpret the results they get back from the lab in practice,” Professor Chinnery said.

“In the short-term it’s the specialists who will use it but we will increasingly see patients knowledgeable about genomics going to their GPs with questions so GPs will need to understand what is possible,” he added.

The Genomics Medical Service will use approximately eight “factories” across the country to analyse the entire genetic blueprints of NHS patients and compare them to medical records.

The more people who donate their genomes, the more links scientists can identify between genes and gene variations, diseases and possible cures.