NHS ramps up support for survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM)

Hundreds of survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM) will be able to access expert care, support and treatment earlier thanks to a new network of NHS ‘one stop shop’ clinics being launched today.

More than 1,300 women over 18 are expected to benefit from the highly specialised FGM support being rolled out to eight new centres across England as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

Typically, the NHS is first able to identify and begin to offer support to survivors of FGM when they are pregnant, through maternity services. Over the last three months almost 1,000 women and girls were identified as having been affected.

The new network of FGM support clinics – opening in Birmingham, Bristol, London and Leeds – will aim to reach women before they are pregnant, providing those over the age of 18 with a range of services all under one roof.

They will be led by specialist doctors, midwives and nurses, and provide access to specially-trained counsellors for emotional support, as well as FGM Health Advocates for advice on accessing other services locally.

The launch of the clinics will be marked by Hilary Garratt, the Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England and lead on safeguarding, who will officially open the new services in London this afternoon.

Hilary Garratt, Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “These new NHS clinics will benefit hundreds of women who have suffered this most severe form of abuse and violence. These are clinics for women, run by women.”

“We’ve listened closely to survivors and their advocates and designed these brand new services with them, meaning that these clinics, and the highly-trained staff who will work in it, represents a real step-change in the quality and timeliness of support the NHS provides.”

“Survivors of FGM deserve to be heard and supported – and that is exactly what the NHS is working with them and others to achieve. Not only are we supporting individual women, but the impact this has on their families, communities and of equal importance, the next generation.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’ve been incredibly moved by the stories of girls and women who have been subjected to FGM, and am determined to do everything I can to support the survivors of this horrific act. FGM continues to devastate lives and it is vital the NHS does what it can to help.

“It’s absolutely crucial we reach more women so they can access support services that take care of mental, emotional, physical and clinical needs. These clinics will have a profound impact – helping women who have been violated in the most traumatic of ways to move on from this violence and lead happier, healthier lives.”
Manjit Roseghini, Director of Midwifery, Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, said: “The Calabash Clinic will work with FGM survivors, from a number of different communities, who have each had a different experience of the procedure.”

“Our holistic approach to their care will make sure that each woman has specially tailored support specific to their needs, with any women needing further support being referred to other specialist NHS services, local partner organisations and voluntary groups.​”

With highly trained clinicians and staff including FGM Health Advocates on hand to provide support, women accessing the walk-in clinics will be able to talk openly about their experience of FGM and discuss possible treatment options.

These will include de-infibulation, a minor procedure that is performed to divide the scar tissue which narrows the vagina in certain cases of FGM, and which can reduce complications during childbirth if it is performed before a woman becomes pregnant. The service will also be available to women outside of childbearing years.

As the majority of women who have had FGM come into contact with NHS services after they have fallen pregnant – usually between the ages of 25 and 35 – the new clinics will prioritise swift support and treatment for women between 18 and 25, before they fall pregnant.

The clinics will also work with local community groups – including Women’s Health and Family Services, Manor Gardens (Dahlia Project), Forward, and AYDA Centre – to prevent future cases by seeking to change the culture and thinking around FGM.

This will include education on the medical and psychological impact of FGM as well as the legal implications of carrying out or participating in it.

Damage caused by FGM affects women differently and each woman’s care package will be tailored to their specific needs, with any women needing further support being referred to other specialist NHS services, local partner organisations and voluntary groups.

The eight new clinics represent the latest development in how the NHS is playing its part in supporting the victims of FGM as well as reducing the risk of there being more victims in the future.

This includes improving data sharing and staff training to help identify victims and potential victims, and national support to help local health groups commission the kind of services women who have been subjected to FGM need.