Cancer patients should have access to genetic testing to better tailor treatment for their disease and thus increase the likelihood of achieving the very best outcomes, concludes a new report by Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies on genomics and its potential for NHS care.

In her annual report, this year titled Generation Genome, Dame Sally highlights the UK’s leading position in the field but also stresses that its full potential in improving patient care is not yet being realised.

“Genomic medicine has the potential to save costs and improve quality of care by targeting treatment, maximising benefit and reducing side effects,” she said, but noted that in order to achieve this “genomic dream” national standards must be embedded and labs streamlined.

Crucially, there must also be wider support for the use of personal data. “Key to advancing genomic medicine will be helping patients to understand that by agreeing to use of data about their illness, they bring direct benefits to themselves,” says the report.

“The field of genomics is complex, and we cannot expect patients to understand it readily. As members of clinical teams we must engage patients and the public and develop real partnerships. We need to continue and strengthen an open dialogue and make sure that the argument for joining in is heard.”

The genetic testing of NHS patients in England is currently undertaken at 25 key regional laboratories and some smaller sites, but Dame Sally recommends the establishment of centralised, national service in order to secure “parity of access” across the country.

Also, critical to progress will be relevant training for clinicians so that, within five years, genomic medicine is offered to patients where appropriate to improve diagnosis, treatment and outcomes for patients.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the College supported the recommendations outlined in the report to help realise the potential of genomics in the UK.

“GPs rely on high quality data when we’re assessing the unique physical, psychological and social factors that might be affecting the health of the patient sitting in front of us, and genome data could provide an additional and unique level of insight that could help us to offer patients more timely diagnosis and more appropriate management of some types of cancer, and some rare diseases.

“But as exciting as these developments are, GPs and our teams are currently under intense resource and workforce pressures - and this must be considered before any more duties are imposed on our profession,” she stressed, and also cautioned over “the potential harms of indiscriminate screening for genetic markers”.