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Nurses should be made more aware of genetics, report finds

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Genetics should be incorporated into mainstream nursing practice, which has failed to keep pace with scientific developments, the chief nursing officer has been told.

A study on genetics and genomics in nursing and midwifery was published by the Nursing and Midwifery Professional Advisory Board, which advises the CNO, on 18 October.

The report found that, although genetic science was advancing rapidly, “nurses and midwives have limited competence and confidence in genetics/genomics”, andeducation in genetics was “inconsistent”.

The group recommended that all nurses and midwives, at all levels of practice, should be able to use information about genes to determine disease risk, diagnosis and prognosis, and to select treatments.

Such knowledge would improve the treatment of patients with inherited cancers and cardiac conditions, and rarer diseases such as Huntington’s disease.

Candy Cooley, programme manager at the National Genetics Education and Development Centre, told Nursing Times: “This is about understanding the small amount of genetics you need for your area of practice – genetics should be part of history-taking, and that holistic approach to the individual patient. It’s about the patient in front of you asking a question, and you not being fearful to answer.”

The study recommended a UK-wide strategy to make nurses more aware of genomics. Nursing and midwifery leaders should have an equal voice in policymaking, and Nursing and Midwifery Council standards should be expanded to reflect the integration of genomics into all areas of nursing and midwifery.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the CNO would take the recommendations into account along with those of the Human Genomics Strategy Group, whose report on the issue is expected to be published in the coming months.

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