Health Minister Robin Swann has pledged the Department of Health’s commitment to advancing work on genomic medicine in Northern Ireland.
Important genomics research carried out in Northern Ireland, and the work of the Regional Molecular Diagnostic Service, is already helping to transform healthcare and improve treatment for cancer, as well as rare and infectious diseases.
The Minister said: “In recent years, great strides have been made across the world in the field of genomic medicine. Here in Northern Ireland, there’s been encouraging progress with notable highlights including our participation in the 100,000 Genomes Project, the establishment of a Regional Molecular Diagnostic Service, the Pathogen Genome Sequencing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and developments in both HSC workforce and IT infrastructure to better support and deliver genomic services.”
In March this year, the Minister published Genome UK: Shared Commitments alongside the Health Ministers in Scotland and Wales and the Minister for Technology, Innovation and Life Sciences in England. He set out plans to establish a Genomics Partnership for NI, which would bring together delivery partners from across government and the HSC, public health, industry, research and academia, with patient input, working to deliver an integrated genomics service for the region. The Partnership would be responsible for setting policy, strategic direction, vision and priorities for genomics and would be a key stepping stone to the development and publication of a Shared Commitments Implementation Plan for NI by the end of the year.
Minister Swann commented: “Back in March, it was almost inconceivable that we would find ourselves in this position, seven months on, with no Executive. The consequent lack of an agreed Health budget has had a severe impact on my ability to plan strategically and invest in our Health Services in the ways in which I had hoped. Unfortunately, genomics is one such area that has suffered because of these budgetary constraints and it has not been possible to progress the work at the pace we had anticipated.
“Without a Genomics Partnership in place, my Department is not able to produce a meaningful Shared Commitments Implementation Plan by December 2022. Sustained investment in our genomics workforce, IT and infrastructure will be required if we are to develop the service and continue to provide equitable genomic testing for our patients, in line with the rest of the UK.
“However, I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my Department’s commitment to working to deliver on Genome UK: Shared Commitments and to progressing the Genomics agenda in Northern Ireland as soon as resources allow. Genomics is one of the fastest growing fields in modern medicine and in order to keep pace with advancements on an international scale, it’s imperative that we work closely with our neighbours across the UK and Ireland to harness the potential of genomics for the benefit of our patients and our health service.
“My Department is committed to developing and cultivating NI’s genomics service, in line with service development across the UK. This approach will also support our other key strategic priorities such as the Cancer Strategy, which includes a commitment to deliver genetic and genomic testing in cancer pathways in line with NICE recommendations, and also in public health where rapid genome sequencing of pathogens has proven so vital in current and future pandemic preparedness.”
Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young said: “Genomic medicine offers very real and exciting prospects for healthcare in terms of preventative medicine, faster diagnosis, and personalised and better treatment for patients.
“It’s vitally important that we develop resilience in our genomics service and build our workforce to guarantee future progress in this fast-moving field, to allow Northern Ireland to keep step with genomic testing advancements and to ensure that our patients are offered a first-class homegrown genomic medicines service.”
Notes to editors:
- Genome UK – the future of healthcare, was published in September 2020 by the UK Government, setting out the government’s 10-year strategy to create the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world, delivering better health outcomes at lower cost. 2025 marks the half-way milestone in the 10-year strategy and the Shared Commitments state the UK nations’ clear commitment to work together along with delivery partners across the UK to implement these and realise the potential of genomic healthcare for the benefit of all UK patients.
- The Shared Commitments document can be found on the .gov.uk website.
- The Ministerial Statement of Intent - Genome UK: Shared Commitments Update can be accessed on the Department website.
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