Journal of Community Genetics

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 243–256 | Cite as

Mainstreaming genetics in palliative care: barriers and suggestions for clinical genetic services

  • A. Dearing
  • N. Taverner
Original Article


Palliative healthcare professionals (PHCPs) frequently do not refer their eligible patients for genetic testing. After the death of the affected individual, clinically relevant information for family members is lost. In previous research, PHCPs stated that the end-of-life setting is not appropriate to discuss genetic issues. It is unclear if this has changed due to increasing awareness of genetics in the media and efforts to mainstream genetic testing. Semi-structured interviews of PHCPs were analysed by thematic analysis. Seven PHCPs (four nurses, two consultants, and one clinical psychologist) were interviewed. Participants reported feeling unfamiliar with the role of clinical genetics services, and did not feel confident in addressing genetic issues with their patients. A lack of scientific knowledge and unawareness of existing infrastructure to support their patients were cited. Many stated that palliative patients are interested in exploring a potential hereditary component to their disease, and acknowledged the potential for psychological benefit for their patients and their families. Most stated that addressing genetics fits within their skill set, but expressed concern about issues of consent, logistical difficulties, and ethical dilemmas. These perceptions differ considerably from those reported in existing literature. Importantly, each participant stated that the potential benefits of addressing genetic issues outweighed the potential for harm in most cases. These results suggest a need for clinical genetics staff to develop closer links with their local PHCPs and to provide education. Clinical psychologists may also be a helpful resource to address PHCPs’ concerns.



No funding was obtained for this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clinical Genetics, St. George’s University LondonBlackshaw RoadLondonUK
  2. 2.Institute of Medical GeneticsUniversity Hospital of WalesCardiffUK

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