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COVID-19 UPDATE 19/05/2020


The Exeter Genomics Laboratory works in a partnership with the Bristol Genetics Laboratory as the South West Genomic Laboratory Hub (SW GLH), the designated NHS provider of genomic laboratory services in the SW of England.

In response to the COVID-19 emergency in March, the SW GLH made some changes to genomic laboratory services in accordance with national recommendations from NHSE. Clinically urgent tests were prioritised for rare disease and cancer patients.

Effect of the COVID-19 emergency measures: In keeping with the nationwide downscaling of non-urgent clinical services, the overall number of requests for rare disease genomic tests has reduced. In some cancer specialties, the number of tests requests has also reduced because there have been fewer new cancer referrals and diagnostic biopsy/surgical resection procedures. We anticipate that as clinical services de-escalate, the demand for genomic testing will progressively increase.

The SW GLH service during the emergency measures: The SW GLH has maintained urgent genomic testing services for rare disease (pre-natal diagnosis, antenatal carrier testing, rapid exome sequencing for NICU/PICU cases, newborn screening and genetic testing to inform urgent management) and for cancer (testing for cancer diagnosis, treatment selection and monitoring). Testing for lower-priority rare disease and cancer indications has continued, albeit at a reduced level and sometimes with longer reporting times.

Provision of service during COVID-19 de-escalation: The SW GLH aims to maintain the current ‘normal’ service throughout NHS COVID-19 de-escalation. However, there are several measures that service users can now take to assist this:

  • Please now consider requesting non-urgent rare disease and cancer genetic tests if your clinical service can do this in way that is safe for patients and with appropriate governance measures. If you feel that the re-activation of a clinical service may have a large impact on the testing laboratory, please give us a call or send an email, so that we are prepared.
  • Some genetic laboratory providers outside the SW region have not yet returned to normal service and may not be offering some genetic tests. In this circumstance, please contact the SW GLH team to discuss whether we can provide a suitable test within region.
  • Please avoid ‘stockpiling’ requests for genetic tests and sending to the SW GLH in batches.

Where to get further information: The Exeter Genomics Laboratory can be contacted at rde-tr.MolecularGeneticsAdmin@nhs.net or 01392 408229. More information about the services offered by the SWGLH will shortly be at https://www.nbt.nhs.uk/south-west-genomic-laboratory-hub.

Launch of new genetic and genomic tests: The SW GLH will continue its development programme to improve genomic testing through initiatives such as extended somatic gene panel testing for solid tumours and whole genome sequencing for some cancers and rare diseases. Because of the COVID-19 emergency, we anticipate launch of these new services later than initially planned.

Professor Sian Ellard
SW GLH Scientific Director

Professor Rachel Butler
SW GLH Operations Director

Professor Andrew Mumford
SW GLH Medical Director

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