GPs in England are invited to apply for funding to become experts in genetics, the government announced recently. Money is available for ten GPs to take part in a training scheme that aims to make sure genetic knowledge and treatment are widely available to NHS patients. Applications for the funds, which will cover professional fees, and an educational allowance, must be received by 29 October 2004. Further details of the scheme are available on the Department of Health's website
The training scheme could help GPs deliver screening programmes for Down syndrome and sickle cell disease, and also to diagnose and treat patients with a family history of common diseases such as breast cancer. It is also hoped that specialist GPs will help raise awareness of genetics with other doctors and primary care staff. 'We want to create genetic champions, who will go out and spread the word among other GPs', said geneticist Peter Farndon, director of the new NHS Genetics and Education and Development Centre in Birmingham.
The investment is part of a £50 million government initiative to incorporate new genetic technologies into healthcare, outlined in the Genetics White Paper published last June. The news follows recent announcements of increased funding for gene therapy trials, research into pharmacogenetics ('personalised' medicine) and money to upgrade existing genetics laboratories.
The new training scheme has been criticised by pressure group Genewatch UK. 'There aren't really any tests suitable for GPs to use yet', director Helen Wallace told BBC News Online. She added that the role of genetics in common diseases has been 'oversold'. Farndon acknowledged that there was a possibility that 'the science might not deliver', but pointed out that 'what we have now is, for the first time in the history of the NHS, a period in which we can plan'.