DNA database ‘would transform healthcare’
A DATABASE of the DNA profiles of Islanders which would help identify whether they were at risk of hereditary conditions could be set up in the future, a Hospital consultant has revealed.
Cardiologist Dr Andrew Mitchell, the head of the national award-winning Jersey Heart Team, said a database, along with the potential opening next spring of a research centre and future plans to open a medical school, could help build up the reputation of the Island as a ‘world-class’ clinical and research centre.
Dr Mitchell, who says his department has seen the number of outpatients double in the past five years, also hopes to be able to expand his team in the new year in order to cope with demand and bring new skills to treat cardiological conditions.
‘The number of people we are seeing is down to great GPs referring the right patients, new, innovative treatments that we can now offer and an ageing demographic,’ Dr Mitchell, who was awarded an outstanding achievement award from the Arrhythmia Alliance in October, said.
‘A lot of the extra work is driven by people needing more specialist input but in spite of that we’ve kept our waiting lists down. Cardiology’s waiting lists are the lowest in the Hospital, even though our numbers are increasing rapidly. To deal with that we have had to expand out workforce.’
As well as himself there are five nurses, an associate specialist, a cardiology clinical fellow and a part-time staff grade doctor on the team. However, next year Dr Mitchell said he wants to expand the team by adding a second consultant – who would ‘bring skills and treatments to Jersey that we don’t currently provide’, an additional nurse for the department’s community heart failure work and a secretary.
And he says he hopes that the States will pick up the salaries of a doctor and nurse who already work on his team but are currently paid for by a charity.
The team were recently recognised at the Houses of Parliament for the pioneering work they have undertaken in using a new drug to treat atrial fibrillation [an irregular heartbeat] – a condition that affects one in four over the age of 40.
Jersey is the first place in the British Isles to use the drug Vernakalent, which converts an irregular heartbeat into a normal rhythm, and has drawn up protocols for British hospitals to now be able to administer it.
Jersey has also led the way in training non-medical staff to implant potentially lifesaving devices which records any irregularities with a person’s heartbeat, Dr Mitchell said.
Although the Island is still training a non-medical member of staff to inject the heart monitors, the UK has already trained people due to the guidelines which the Jersey Heart Team has drawn up.
‘It frees doctors up to do more sophisticated procedures,’ Dr Mitchell said.
Meanwhile, Sister Angela Hall was selected by the Royal College of Nurses as the top nurse in Britain this year as well as receiving the One Gov employee of the year award and a local British Heart Foundation award.
Dr Mitchell says that the team continues to look into researching new techniques and treatments.
‘Within the Jersey Heart Team we encourage everyone to take part [in research],’ he said. ‘We’re hoping to open a new Jersey Heart Research Unit in the spring which will focus on novel and digital interventions, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. We are working collaboratively with Digital Jersey and in partnership with UK and European tech companies to test and innovate in Jersey,’ he said.
Looking to the future, Dr Mitchell said it was hoped a DNA database would be established in Jersey. Estonia and Iceland already run similar databases.
‘At some point, with appropriate consent, we hope to create a genetic DNA database,’ Dr Mitchell said. ‘An Island-wide database so everyone has access to their own DNA record and with the right counselling can chose to find out about any conditions they may have.’
And he says that there are plans to consider opening an undergraduate medical school in Jersey.
‘We have been in contact with a leading UK medical school who are interested in founding an independent medical school in Jersey – “The Island Medical School”,’ he said. ‘This would enhance clinical care and build up the academic credibility and reputation of the Island as a world class clinical and research centre.
‘We were really close [to announcing plans] but it got halted as in the UK they have suddenly expanded their medical numbers and the university we were talking to have to expand in the UK first before they can expand here.’