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Competences, education and support for new roles in cancer genetics services: outcomes from the cancer genetics pilot projects


In 2004 the Department of Health in collaboration with Macmillan Cancer Support set up service development projects to pilot the integration of genetics in mainstream medicine in the area of cancer genetics.

In developing these services, new roles and responsibilities were devised that required supporting programmes of education and training. The NHS National Genetics Education and Development Centre has worked with the projects to draw together their experience in these aspects. New roles include the Cancer Family Nurse Specialist, in which a nurse working in a cancer setting was trained to identify and manage genetic or family history concerns, and the Genetic Risk Assessment Practitioner—a small team of practitioners working within a secondary care setting to deliver a standardised risk assessment pathway. Existing roles were also adapted for a different setting, in particular the use of genetic counsellors working in a community ethnic minority setting. These practitioners undertook a range of clinical activities that can be mapped directly to the ‘UK National Workforce Competences for Genetics in Clinical Practice for Non-genetics Healthcare Staff’ framework developed by Skills for Health and the NHS National Genetics Education and Development Centre (2007; draft competence framework). The main differences between the various roles were in the ordering of genetic tests and the provision of advice on invasive preventive options such as mastectomy. Those involved in service development also needed to develop competences in project management, business skills, audit and evaluation, working with users, general management (personnel, multi-agency work and marketing), educational supervision, IT, public and professional outreach, and research. Important resources to support the development of new roles and competences included pathways and guidelines, a formal statement of competences, a recognised syllabus, appropriate and timely courses, the availability of a mentor, supervision and opportunities to discuss cases, a formal assessment of learning and continuing support from specialist genetics services. This represents a current resource gap that will be of concern to cancer networks and a challenge to providers of educational resources and regional genetics services.

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Genetic risk assessment practitioner


General practitioner with a special interest


National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence


National Health Service


Primary Care Trust


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The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support of the Department of Health in funding the NHS National Genetics Education and Development Centre and to thank the cancer genetics pilot projects for sharing their experiences within the workshop, completing the questionnaires, and for sharing resources.

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Correspondence to Catherine Bennett.

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Bennett, C., Burton, H. & Farndon, P. Competences, education and support for new roles in cancer genetics services: outcomes from the cancer genetics pilot projects. Familial Cancer 6, 171–180 (2007).

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  • Cancer genetics
  • Competences
  • Education
  • Genetics education
  • Roles
  • Service development