HSE initiates a National Genetics and Genomics Strategy for Ireland

The HSE today (Thursday, May 12, 2022) took the first step toward developing a National Genetic and Genomic Strategy for Ireland, with the inaugural meeting of the HSE National Genetic and Genomic Steering Group.

Genomics is the study of the body’s genes, their functions and their influence on the growth, development and working of the body.  A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Genetic testing can be used to examine particular individual genes within the genome, and whether a person is carrying a specific inherited altered gene that causes a particular medical condition. Genomic medicine uses information about a person’s genetic makeup in devising innovative and effective new treatments and care pathways for patients.

Dr Colm Henry, HSE Chief Clinical Officer said today: “Genomic medicine is revolutionising healthcare and the precision treatments emerging can deliver huge benefits for patients by offering them the very best predictive, preventive, and personalised care.  Advances in genomics are being translated into more efficient and cost-effective care for some of the world’s most prevalent conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. We have known for some time that our services in Ireland need urgent investment and an expert-informed strategy, to ensure this service is developed according to best-practice.”

Following a Government decision to develop this advanced area of healthcare, an expert group have begun work within the HSE, chaired by Dr Mark Bale, former Genomics Advisor to the UK Department of Health, supported by the HSE’s Chief Clinical Officer. The group includes representatives from a range of clinical specialties in Ireland, academic and patient representatives and international experts in the area of genetics and genomics. This group will develop an agreed strategy and implementation plan for genomics in Ireland. The strategy will be developed and published before the end of 2022. 

Dr Colm Henry added: “A number of previous reviews have shown that there is a large and increasing disparity between genomic medicine services offered in Ireland and internationally, and Medical Genetics in Ireland is under-resourced for both clinical and laboratory services. As a result, patients here do not currently have timely access to genetic opinions or to genetic testing, resulting in delays in diagnosis, treatments, and interventions. This new strategy will allow our health service to tackle these shortcomings and realise the benefit of genomic medicine for patients in Ireland.”

The work of this group will consider issues like the shortage of trained genetic specialists, substantial knowledge gaps in the clinical workforce and a lack of genetic/genomic literacy across healthcare professionals and the public.  It will provide a model for coordination and integration between clinicians, and review the needs for a centralised national body with responsibility for genetic services and the establishment of future services, with appropriate governance structures, policies, procedure, and protocols.

The strategy will define what actions and resources are needed, including funding and staffing levels, allowing the HSE to develop a genomic service for Ireland that will improve health outcomes, drive down the cost of care and fuel scientific innovation and discovery.

To facilitate the strategy development workstreams will be developed, they will include:

  • Data, Policy, Communications & Engagement
  • Infrastructure
  • Workforce and collaboration
  • Clinical innovation

The National Genetic and Genomic Strategy for Ireland and implementation plan will be published before the end of 2022.

Last updated on: 12 / 05 / 2022