There are several reasons why a referral to Clinical Genetics may be considered, for example:

  • you, or a family member, have a condition that might be genetic.
  • you have requested information about a particular genetic condition.
  • to discuss screening or testing for a genetic condition or to determine your risk.
  • your doctor would like help in making a diagnosis for you or your child.


Although a condition may be genetic, it does not necessarily mean it has been inherited - there may not be anyone else in the family with the same condition.


A common reason for referral is a strong family history of cancer.  If this applies to you please see the Cancer Genetics page.

What is genetic counselling?

Genetic counselling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease; it is not the same as therapeutic counselling.


Genetic counselling involves taking a full family history, and gathering relevant details about medical conditions in the family.  Sometimes further tests are needed.  We then make an assessment of the likelihood of a genetic condition, and explain the implications for you.  Where possible we discuss actions that can be taken to lower your risk, for example, screening or in some cases refer you for treatment.


If you think it would be helpful for you to be referred to the Genetics Service please talk to your GP or hospital doctor.


What happens when a person has been referred to the Genetics Service?


Depending on the reason for referral one or more of the following things may happen:

  • You will be sent a family history sheet for completion.  This will provide us with some basic information that will help us to prepare our assessment for when we see you in clinic.
  • You will be sent an invitation to make an appointment with the genetic nurse counsellor.  This can be either
    • a pre-consultant clinic appointment - this is to draw the family tree, to record any particular questions you may have and to explain what will happen at the consultant appointment. If relevant, you will also be asked about the names and ages of your relatives and perhaps about their medical history.  Don’t worry if you don’t have all this information; the genetic counsellor will explain what, if any, additional information is needed and assist in its collection.
    • a genetic counsellor only appointment -  the genetic counsellor will make an assessment and answer your questions, in which case no further appointments will be necessary. 
  • You will be sent an invitation to make  an appointment to see a Consultant Clinical Geneticist.  You may be offered an appointment with the consultant first of all, or following a preliminary appointment with the nurse counsellor.

Your clinic appointment

The appointment will usually last 45 minutes, so there should be plenty of time.  If there isn’t enough time to deal with all the issues we will arrange a telephone call or another appointment for you. 



If you are unable to attend please let us know as soon as possible so that the appointment can be offered to someone else.


Parking at most hospitals is difficult, so if you are travelling by car please allow time to find a parking space!



Who will I see at the clinic? 

The name of the person running the clinic will usually appear on your appointment letter.  You will either see one of the Genetic Counsellors (a specialist nurse or science graduate both with additional specialist training in genetics), or a Consultant Clinical Geneticist, or a Specialist Registrar (a qualified doctor training in genetics).  Occasionally, another doctor or nurse may also attend to gain experience in clinical genetics.  We also participate in the training of medical students.  If you do not wish to have any additional staff ‘sitting in’ at your appointment either let us know by telephone beforehand or when you arrive at the clinic.




What happens at the clinic appointment?  

It is usually necessary to take a full medical history and sometimes (more often in the consultant clinic) to perform a physical examination, depending on the condition.  Further investigations, including genetic tests may be possible but these are not needed in all cases.  We then make an assessment of the likelihood of a genetic condition, and explain the implications for you.  We will discuss your concerns and questions about the possible genetic condition.  Where possible we discuss actions that can be taken to lower your risk, for example, screening.  Sometimes this needs to be done over more than one appointment.




How will I remember what was said? 

Soon after the clinic you will receive a letter from the doctor or nurse counsellor summarising the important things discussed at the appointment.




Where are clinics held?  

Consultant clinics are held at:

  • Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital (Heavitree)
  • Derriford Hospital, Plymouth
  • Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro 
  • Torbay Hospital
  • Teignmouth Hospital
  • North Devon District Hospital, Barnstaple


Genetic Counsellor clinics are held at numerous sites throughout Devon and Cornwall.  Where possible you can be seen either close to your home or close to your place of work depending on availability.





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