HELP FOR NEW GENERATIONS; IN the Third of Our Series about Liverpool Womens' Hospital, LIZ HULL Looks at Genetic Screening for Cancer Sufferers

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Byline: LIZ HULL

HUNDREDS of people in Merseyside could be offered genetic testing for cancer after the Liverpool Women's Hospital was awarded pounds 800,000.

Doctors have been promised the cash by April by Merseyside and Cheshire health authorities.

More than pounds 840,000 is to be donated by the government to help them look into the genes of families which suffer incidence of cancer in each generation.

But today Ian Ellis, consultant clinical geneticist at Liverpool Women's Hospital, said it was not enough.

And he says they need up to six new consultants to offer an adequate service over the next three years.

Dr Ellis said: "We are the poorest funded service in the country and have had people waiting eight months for an appointment.

"At the moment we have a skeleton service and if a family has a relative elsewhere in the country we tend to send the sample there for testing. For example, if they have family in Leeds, we would use the Leeds laboratory and beg a favour from them.

"The reality is there are two consultants for this area and we should have eight for the size of the population.

"The danger is that because this money is focused on cancer, the families with other genetic problems will be left behind.

"To leave families with a malformed baby and to tell them they are stuck in a queue is not humane."

The genetics service for Merseyside and Cheshire is based jointly at Liverpool Women's Hospital and Alder Hey.

Doctors look into family history of cancers, birth defects and congenital disorders, such as cystic fibrosis and heart disease.

They take blood samples or mouth swabs, look at DNA and chromosomes and cross reference the results with genes which have already been identified to diagnose genetic conditions.

But up until now the cancer service has been mainly funded by Macmillan Cancer Relief.

Now, for the first time, government cash will be used to improve the tracing of family histories of cancer in the future.

The money will also pay for a new consultant, a genetic nurse and administration staff, as well as developing laboratory facilities.

Doctors also hope they will be able to introduce new genetic cancer clinics in Southport and Ormskirk, and other parts of Merseyside. …