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Embedding genomics into nursing practice

A recent article in the Nursing Times has emphasised the necessity for embedding genomics into mainstream clinical nursing practice.

2020 so far has been a year that no one will forget. At the start of lockdown, each week, we all optimistically came together to clap for our essential workers fighting COVID-19. However, on Saturday, the bravery of one our largest workforces appeared to have been forgotten. Thousands of NHS workers took to the streets of the UK to protest against the recent public sector pay rises. Among those overlooked were NHS nurses.

International Year of the Nurse and Midwife

This year marks the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. A year in which we should reflect on the amazing contributions of these workers to our healthcare systems. Now, we need their efforts once more. In a recent article, Professor Janice Sigsworth, Director of Nursing at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, shed some light about embedding genomics into nursing practice.

Recent work is continuing to demonstrate the power of genomic technologies in healthcare, including its use in the ongoing battle against COVID-19. With the role of genomics becoming increasingly integrated into health services, Professor Janice Sigsworth has emphasised that genomics is now “everybody’s business”.

“Everybody’s business”

The recent introduction of genomics into the Nursing and Midwifery Council proficiency standards for undergraduates provided a start to this. This means that those currently training will enter practice with understanding on this topic. The goal now is to integrate this into the curriculum for postgraduate students.

With the 2018 launch of the national genomic medicine services (GMS), the next stage is to establish local GMS alliances. These alliances will drive forward the agenda in their local area. This will include setting up transformation projects for nursing and midwifery. Although the programme has yet to be finalised, Professor Sigsworth hopes to utilise the expertise of specialist nurses to help distribute learning to more-generalist colleagues.

The value that nurses will have in genomics is paramount. The relationships that they have with patients will be essential in identifying those who may benefit from genetic testing. They will also be an invaluable support for families throughout the process.

Professor Sigsworth stated:

“Nurses are the ones who are there with the patient 24/7 really. Certainly in hospitals and in community settings, they’re often the ones who see patients more often than the doctors. The relationship nurses have with patients will help start those conversations.”

The transition into nursing

Whilst this transition is essential, challenges still remain, including potential ethical concerns. Professor Sigsworth expressed:

“Some people might not want to know some of the things we might find and, certainly, there are some ethical discussions and debates to be had around how we best deal with that in terms of what we offer, whether we go ahead, and what we do with what we find. That’s for the patient as well as the staff member.”

The article highlighted the importance of making genomics more accessible for nurses and midwives and the need to make them “feel more confident” in being able to talk about it and participate in the research behind it. This in turn will help improve their interactions with patients and their families.

Professor Sigsworth added:

“The speed at which all of this is moving will mean I’m absolutely certain that will happen over, maybe not the two years but over a not-much-longer time period.”

The need to embed genomics into nursing practice is more essential than ever. Nonetheless, how can we expect this workforce to be willing to help in the integration of genomics into clinical practice if they are not being given the recognition they deserve?

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Genetics / NHS / Nursing