Genetics to force NHS link

January 21, 2000

The genetics revolution will drive universities into closer collaboration with the National Health Service as professionals strive to keep up to date with the new technology, according to a government minister.

Yvette Cooper, parliamentary under-secretary of state for health, said new higher and further education courses will be needed to train health-care workers across the NHS to handle the implications of the human genome project.

She said the potential of the Human Genome Project, which recently succeeded in decoding the genetic sequence of a human chromosome for the first time, could not be overestimated, helping provide new therapies, screening techniques and health services more tailored to individual need.

The government was developing an overall strategy to plan how this might be nurtured and exploited, she said.

"The genetics revolution is likely to change the focus of health care from diagnosis and treatment towards detection and prevention ... it will also mean new operating methods for the NHS," she said in a debate on the Human Genome Project led by Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North.

This means having a workforce that can keep up with new developments to turn them into practical benefits for patients.

Ms Cooper said not only medically qualified staff would need this training, but other professionals whose roles would begin to extend into areas traditionally occupied by doctors as a result of the genetic revolution.

"New courses will be needed. New programmes of continuing professional development will need to be put in place so people are up to date with the new developments and the advantages they can bring," she said.

"That means good dialogue between those in the NHS who need the courses and training and those in higher and further education who may provide them."

Dr Gibson said the Human Genome Project would "turn medicine on its head" and would have a huge impact on the medical curriculum.

"We need to plan the restructuring of the National Health Service before the project comes to fruition," he said.

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