Dr Heather Skirton

Professor Heather Skirton on why Gen-Equip is so important:

One in 10 patients who visits a primary care professional has a condition with a genetic basis. Often they aren’t identified, as professionals lack knowledge to recognise those at risk. Gen-Equip has already reached thousands of people to help change this

A project to help health professionals spot signs of genetic conditions such as cancer has won the European Health Award (EHA).

The Gen-Equip Project, led by Professor Heather Skirton from the University of Plymouth, received the award at the 20th European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) on 4 October.

Providing free, online education in genetics to professionals in primary care settings, Gen-Equip aims to improve healthcare for patients who have or are at risk of a condition with an underlying genetic cause, such as breast cancer, bowel cancer or heart disease.

The online resources give health professionals case study examples, suggesting signs and indicators to look out for to enable early diagnosis. The training modules can be completed at any time, at any career stage.

The EHFG presents the EHA award in recognition of transnational projects that contribute to improving public health and healthcare systems in Europe. The EHA jury, made up of high-ranking European health experts, selected the Gen-Equip project for its ‘high-level of innovation and its valuable contribution to training of health professionals in Europe’.

Set up in 2014 thanks to funding from Erasmus+, and developed alongside patient groups and academic partners across Europe, including the University of Exeter, Gen-Equip has already been utilised by 21,000 people.

Professor Skirton said: 

“We started the Gen-Equip project because we became aware of a need for health professionals to have more education in genetics. One in 10 patients who goes to see a primary care professional has a condition with a genetic basis, and we know that they can benefit, if they’re detected, from screening, preventive treatment and early diagnosis.

“But often that doesn’t happen for them, because professionals lack the knowledge and skills they need to identify patients at risk. Our project has already reached many thousands of health professionals to ensure that this changes, and this award raises the profile of genetic healthcare and will help us to maintain the website and continue to update our materials to help more patients in future.

“Receiving such a prestigious award is a valued acknowledgement of the hard work that has been required to develop the learning resources over the past three years.”

EHA jury member Manuel Reiberg, who is also President of the Forum of the Research-based Pharmaceutical Industry in Austria (FOPI), said: 

“The advancing Europeanisation of the health care system is an unmistakable trend. This is why projects with a strong focus on cross-border, European aspects are of utmost importance. This year’s European Health Award winner reflects precisely this, which is why we as FOPI are particularly honoured to support this project with the award.”

Clemens Martin Auer, President of the EHFG, said: 

“The European Health Award honours initiatives which have made a significant contribution to addressing major challenges that European health systems are facing today. My aim is to transform great visions into reality in order to effectively improve the health of Europe’s citizens. Our Award perfectly serves this purpose by promoting cross-border cooperation and the development of sustainable and innovative best practice initiatives.”