Stuart Hall: solving the genome puzzle

Physio and clinical safety lead Stuart Hall is playing a key role in the genome sequencing project that will advance personalised medicine in the NHS

Stuart Hall solving the genome puzzle

Stuart Hall combines a new role as clinical safety lead at Genomics England with practising as a physiotherapy and university lecturing. He qualified as a physiotherapist after a career as a water sports instructor and yacht skipper. He lives in Northam, Devon.

Tell us about Genomics England?

Genomics England was set up by the government to deliver the 100,000 Genomes Project. About 80 per cent of rare diseases have an identified genetic component. This project will sequence 100,000 genomes from NHS patients with rare diseases and their families, and people with common cancers.

At the end of this year, we’re set to set to reach the milestone of 100,000 genomes sequenced. There will then be a national genomics medicine service for the NHS.

What your role with Genomics England?

I ensure that IT systems for the genomics medicine services will be clinically safe to be launched in the NHS next January. To do this, I work three days each week, carrying out clinical safety assessments.  

There is a lot to learn and do, so it’s busy. But everyone feels that they are working towards something which will benefit millions of people. 

Why did you decide to become a clinical safety officer?

Having worked in the NHS for 14 years as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, I was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to progress clinically and needed a challenge. 

This role is usually filled by consultants, directors of nursing or anaesthetists. But a physiotherapy degree and membership of the CSP can open different doors, if you dare to try.  

People think that I must know a lot about IT, but I don’t. For me, it is about being part of a revolution in healthcare led by IT. Key physiotherapy skills, such as communication, active listening, engagement and understanding, are what I use to be successful. Developing a deeper understanding of healthcare agendas, at local and national levels, with the opportunity to play an active role in both is something I feel fortunate to be able to do. 

You are also a lecturer and clinician?

I now work one day a week at Plymouth University – it used to be four days. Lecturing is a large part of it, but so is marking essays, visiting students on placement, providing tutor support and updating course materials. My work as a clinical safety officer requires reviews of documents and sometimes I have to tell myself that I am not grading them. 

I might have other roles and titles, but at my core is physiotherapy. Five years ago, my wife Jane and I set up Northam Physiotherapy. As we both have other jobs, we offer evening and weekend appointments. 

Is managing three jobs a challenge?

Yes. The emails never stop and I try to reply promptly, rather than coming into work to face a backlog. For 15 years, I worked in the NHS and that taught me how to prioritise and manage my time effectively. 

What would you most like to achieve at Genomics England?

Being responsible for the clinical safety of this programme is very exciting. It will be my signature that determines whether this IT system is clinically safe to go live, so when it does I’ll be celebrating. 

What do you hope genomic medicine will have achieved in five years’ time?

Genomic medicine has the potential to change the way we look at modern healthcare. It will enable us to identify predisposition to a disease and, in five years’ time, I hope genomics medicine will be a fundamental part of the NHS, enabling personalised healthcare.

What do you do in your spare time?

I’m mad on flying. I hold a private pilot’s licence and have a share in a motor glider. I’ve flown it to the Scilly Isles, Wales, East Sussex, Isle of Wight and, regularly, to visit my parents in Staffordshire. 

I’m also chair of North Devon Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club. This year I beat my personal best with a 107km flight from Pewsey Downs, Wiltshire, to Milton Keynes.

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