A consultation on laws that would make it mandatory for healthcare professionals to report cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been launched by the Home Office.
Under the proposals, nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals in England and Wales who recognise a case of FGM in a patient would face disciplinary sanctions from the NMC or GMC if they did not report it to the police. Healthcare professionals could also face sanctions under the Disclosure and Barring Service, which would prevent them from being employed in settings with children and vulnerable people.
Mandatory reporting of FGM would only be applicable in 'known' cases, when FGM has been visually confirmed or the patient has disclosed their condition. It would also only apply to patients under the age of 18.
In the foreword to the consultation, home secretary Theresa May said: 'We want to further encourage all groups to speak out about FGM. Introducing mandatory reporting will help to achieve this.'
The proposals would also apply to education professionals and social workers. However, the report identifies healthcare professionals as 'the most likely group to routinely identify FGM.'
Carmel Bagness, the RCN's midwifery and women's health advisor, said: 'It is important for this to be enshrined in law, to ensure women at risk are identified and treated. However, I also want to stress that it is important for nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals to be properly prepared for treating cases of FGM.'
This year has seen a number of other measures to combat FGM launched. In April, advice on FGM for practice and community nurses was added to guidelines about safeguarding children, while the Institute of Health Visitors released guidance on FGM in September.
It is estimated that there are 137,000 women resident in England and Wales who have been affected by FGM. The age at which the procedure is carried out varies by culture and community, but the report suggests that the majority of girls are aged between five and eight, and that girls in this age-group should be considered higher risk.
The consultation will close on 12 January 2015. Further information on the consultation can be found here.