Informed consent for pharmacogenomic testing in people with a learning disability Background Advances in genomic healthcare will enable medication to be tailored to each individual’s needs, based on subtle genetic variations. This will result in individuals being asked to consent to genetic testing for this purpose. The recent political agenda for social change has emphasised the right of people with learning disabilities to have more autonomy and make their own decisions. There have also been significant changes in the way healthcare practitioners relate to their patients, with a shift away from paternalism towards shared decision-making. Research Aim The aims of the study were (1) to explore the information needs of people with mild to moderate learning disabilities with respect to pharmacogenomic tests and (2) to identify ways of facilitating informed consent. Methods An integrative literature review was conducted to identify research on informed consent to healthcare interventions in people with learning disabilities (Phase 1). Subsequent phases (Phases 2-4) of the study were conducted using an ethnographic approach. Phase 2 involved observation of six participants with learning disabilities undergoing a routine blood test consultation in general practice. This was followed by Phase 3, in which semi-structured interviews with 14 participants with learning disabilities were conducted. In Phase 4, three different methods were used: focus groups with carers (four paid carers, five family carers), an on-line bulletin board for healthcare professionals (five participants) and interviews with six key informants from the field of learning disability. Findings The data showed consent procedures were often inadequate and there was inconsistent knowledge of mental capacity law amongst health professionals. Provision of information to patients prior to a blood test was variable, but interviews with people with learning disabilities revealed the fact that this information may not be wanted by them. People with learning disabilities viewed pharmacogenomic tests as similar to other blood tests and would want access to them. The attitudes of paid carers and family carers differed in terms of decision-making opportunities for people with learning disabilities. Conclusions Healthcare practitioners, carers and people with learning disability need to be familiar with the principles of the Mental Capacity Act to facilitate valid consent in the healthcare context. Healthcare practitioners also need to be made aware of developments in pharmacogenomics if it is to become part of routine health care. Finally, this study demonstrated the value of qualitative research in exploring the knowledge and attitudes of people with learning disability.

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