Nurses, midwives and other healthcare professionals must be aware of their legal obligations when treating a patient who has undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has produced guidelines for healthcare professionals who come into contact with women affect by FGM in the course of their work. The guidelines emphasise the importance of understanding the distinction between reporting cases of FGM and recording them.
Under new laws, nurses and midwives are legally obliged to report cases of FGM in girls under the age of 18 to police or social services within one month of confirmation. If they fail to, they could face Fitness to Practice action.
Additionally the guidance requires all healthcare professionals working in general practices, acute trusts, and mental health trusts to record demographic, clinical and family information for all women with FGM. This data should the be submitted to the HSCIC, without anonymisation. This should be explained to the patient, and it should be explained that all personal data will be anonymised when the figures are analysed and published.
Health professionals are also required to explain UK law on FGM to a patient, or their parent or guardian, if they discover a case of FGM. The guidelines state that it is crucial for healthcare professionals to understand this, as well as be able to signpost affected women to specialist FGM services for support and treatment.
Dr Naomi Low-Beer, lead author of the guidelines, said: 'FGM is a violation of human rights and a form of child abuse for which there can be no justification. Thousands of vulnerable women in the UK are living with the long-term physical and psychological consequences of FGM, and these women must receive high-quality care by healthcare professionals.'
The guidelines also emphasise the importance of education, awareness and training for healthcare professionals who encounter FGM in their work. They state that midwives should receive mandatory training on FGM and its management, including the technique of de-infibulation. Healthcare professionals are urged to complete the programme of FGM e-modules developed by Health Education England, to increase their knowledge of the practice.
Dr Manish Gupta, co-chair of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist's Guidelines Committee said: 'Trusts have a responsibility to ensure that all women with FGM can access specialist FGM services, and that their staff have received appropriate training.'
Jane Ellison, the minister for public health, has written to NHS organisations to warn them of the need for increased vigilance over the school summer holiday, when girls are often taken to their family's country of origin to have FGM performed.
She advised healthcare professionals to be aware of girls brought in for inoculations for countries with high FGM prevalence, and girls talking about going on holiday for ceremonies or rituals.