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Background. In response to increased referrals to geneticists and the predicted patient demand for genetic counselling, it has been proposed that some genetics services should be provided in primary care. Practice nurses are ideally placed to collect family history information and advise patients accordingly in new patient, family planning, well women/men and chronic disease clinics, but little is known about their knowledge, skills and attitudes towards providing genetic advice. Objectives. The survey aimed to measure the current situation with regard to: the prevalence of family history recording by practice nurses; confidence in collecting and acting upon family history; and practice nurses' knowledge about familial disorders and genetics. It also investigated what practice nurses think their role should be in relation to the delivery of genetic services; their educational needs; and the most appropriate ways of delivering training/support. Methods. A postal questionnaire survey was carried out of all practices nurses (n = 909) in four Health Authorities in England (Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Nottingham and North Nottinghamshire) and one Health Board in Scotland (Lothian). Analyses were primarily descriptive. Results. A total of 600 nurses (response rate = 66.0%) returned a completed questionnaire. Ninety-six per cent of practice nurses reported that they routinely collect family history information. Over half of the respondents had been consulted in the previous 3 months by patients with a worry about family history of cancer. Approximately 60% of nurses felt confident about collecting the relevant details regarding a family history of breast cancer but felt less confident in collecting the information regarding familial colorectal cancer. Nurses were also unsure how to proceed, with over a third of nurses referring patients to the GP even if they thought the patient was at population risk or, conversely, not referring those that they thought were at considerably higher risk to the GP. There was a reported need for education about familial disease in general and overall agreement that nurses could play a role in genetics in primary care. Conclusion. This study provides evidence of considerable activity from practice nurses regarding routine collection of family history. There is a need for further education for practice nurses regarding family history information and the new genetics so that this information is managed appropriately.

Original publication




Journal article


Family Practice

Publication Date





475 - 486