Genome UK: the first steps in a grand plan

The UK wants to create the world’s most advanced genomic healthcare system, with education and training a key component. Here’s what’s in store for 2021/22

Last week, the UK government published its Genome UK: 2021 to 2022 implementation plan, setting out the steps it expects to take in the coming year to build upon the UK’s position as a global leader in genomic healthcare.

The plan follows the 2020 strategy paper Genome UK: the future of healthcare, which outlined a 10-year vision to deliver “the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world, underpinned by the latest scientific advances, to deliver better health outcomes at lower cost”. You can read our summary of the paper here.

Setting out next steps

The new document offers more detail on how this plan will be implemented, setting out specific commitments for the NHS, Genomics England and other partners over the coming year.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock told the House of Commons: “Today we’ve published our Genome UK implementation plan for how we can build on this even further, including our commitment to sequence one million whole genomes.

“Genomics saves lives, and I’m determined the UK stays at the forefront of this vital new technology. If we draw on ingenuity like this, we can keep up the fight against Covid-19, and also tackle the other things that stop us living healthier lives, like cancer, dementia, and heart disease.”

Key aims

The plan contains a huge number of objectives, including five high-priority actions:

  1. Faster diagnosis and treatment of cancer: Genomics England will work with the NHS to find ways to improve the speed and accuracy of genomic testing for cancer.
  2. Whole genome sequencing for rare diseases and cancer: This test is being made available to patients for the first time through the NHS Genomic Medicine Service.
  3. Data diversity: Genomics England will work to ensure datasets are more diverse and represent people from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds so that everyone can benefit equally from genomic healthcare.
  4. Our Future Health: This project (previously called Accelerating Detection of Disease) will begin recruiting up to five million people for the UK’s largest-ever research programme.
  5. Data sharing: ­The UK will develop global standards and policies for secure sharing of genomic and related health data, so that patients can trust their information is secure but can also benefit research. The National Institute for Health Research, Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust will work on this over the next five years.

Workforce education

The implementation plan highlights the central role of staff expertise in making the long-term ambitions of Genome UK a reality: “We need a healthcare workforce with role-appropriate and up-to-date genomics knowledge. This includes having staff with highly specialist clinical and scientific expertise.”

To accomplish this, the plan for 2021-22 sets out commitments to work towards educating current and future workforces.

Health Education England (HEE) will work with the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to ensure genomic medicine is embedded in medical training, from medical school curricula through to postgraduate education and training programmes. This works towards meeting Genome UK’s commitment to: “ensure that all new graduating doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, allied health professionals, dental and relevant non-clinical staff have awareness and knowledge of genomics that is relevant to their role”.

To look at the training needs of the existing workforce, a Joint Genomics Workforce Steering Group has been established between HEE’s Genomics Education Programme (GEP) and the NHS England and NHS Improvement Genomics Unit. This group will undertake a survey to “identify gaps and priorities for education and training” in the workforce, from which to “develop and implement evidence-based education and training plans”.

As part of this, the GEP looks forward to adding to its wide range of educational opportunities in genomics for healthcare professionals, including resources and courses designed to support the delivery of the NHS Genomic Medicine Service. To stay informed about new developments and opportunities, follow us on social media or sign up to our newsletter.