Health: Leeds health service ‘stars’ rewarded

The Leeds Health Stars Awards.
The Leeds Health Stars Awards.
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THEY’RE the unsung heroes of the health service.

Working behind the scenes, the winners at the Leeds Health Stars Awards were recognised for the innovative work they are doing to improve the care of everyone from cancer patients to those with learning disabilities.

One winning team is at the very cutting edge of their field – even though some of their members don’t even work directly with patients.

The Yorkshire Regional Genetics Service, based in Leeds, was the first in the country to use a new DNA testing technique to diagnose illnesses, initially breast cancer.

A year ago they started the Next Generation Sequencing Service to test for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

Changes, or mutations, to these genes can mean a woman is much more likely to develop breast and ovarian cancer.

If it is believed a patient may have cancer with a hereditary link, they can undergo testing to find out if they have the gene mutations. Family members can also undergo testing to see if they do too, and therefore would be at greater risk. They can then decide whether to have preventative surgery.

The Leeds service, which has a lab at St James’s Hospital and a base at Chapel Allerton Hospital, issued the first diagnostic reports in the UK using Next Generation Sequencing.

David Cockburn, deputy director of the DNA Laboratory at the Yorkshire Regional Genetics Service, said: “We were the first UK laboratory to establish genetic testing workflows with the technique.

“This time last year we started testing breast cancer patients and we have tested over 400 patients.”

This trailblazing work has meant patients undergoing testing for hereditary breast cancer genes will find out their results significantly more quickly than before.

Government targets stipulate the vast majority should have their results within 40 working days, but with the new technique the average is now 27 days.

One benefit of speeded-up testing is that if patients knew they had the gene mutation sooner, they could potentially have one operation rather than several.

The work to introduce Next Generation Sequencing in Leeds scooped the team the Transforming Services Award at the Leeds Health Stars Awards.

Dr Cockburn, who represented the project at the awards, said it was “fantastic” to see the service being recognised.

“It’s a morale boost for the staff to have this sort of recognition for what we have done with this innovative technology.

“We think it will really be a launch pad for developing the service further.”

Five teams were honoured at the event at Leeds Town Hall, with awards presented by Ian Cameron, director of public health for Leeds.

Dr Cameron said: “The standard of nominations was exceptionally high. I am very proud of the tremendous achievements of all our health and social care staff, and our partners in the voluntary, community and faith sector.

“These teams are the basis for the success of health and social care in Leeds and for the excellent quality of care provided to patients and those who use services. Those teams shortlisted for the Health Stars Awards are no exception and have worked extremely hard to ensure that the needs of our patients are at the centre of everything we do.”