Women who have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) will be able to access tailored holistic services, including specialist counselling support as well as advice on possible treatment options, with the opening of eight new one-stop clinics. The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said it welcomed the launch of the specialist walk-in clinics in areas where there is a high prevalence of FGM cases identified in women and girls – but it also called for greater awareness of FGM among key health professionals, and for more specialist practitioners with the expertise to do de-infibulation.
Matt Hancock announced yesterday that eight new FGM support clinics led by specialist midwives will bring together under one roof specialist consultants and counsellors, the expertise of the NHS, and FGM charities and organisations, to help survivors to deal with the physical effects of FGM, and the psychological scars. The eight clinics opening are in Leeds, Birmingham, Brent, Waltham Forest, Croydon, Hammersmith, Tower Hamlets and Bristol.
NHS England said the clinics will have highly trained clinicians and staff, including FGM health advocates, so that women accessing the will be able to talk openly about their experience of FGM and discuss possible treatment options including de-infibulation, a minor surgical procedure to divide the scar tissue that narrows the vagina in certain cases of FGM. De-infibulation 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.
Currently, most women who have had FGM come into contact with NHS services only after they have fallen pregnant – usually between the ages of 25 and 35 – so the new clinics will prioritise swift support and treatment for women aged 18-25, before they fall pregnant.
The clinics will also work with local community groups to prevent future cases by seeking to change the culture and thinking around FGM, including through education on the medical and psychological impact of FGM as well as the legal implications of carrying out or participating in it. NHS England added that to reduce the risk of girls becoming future FGM victims, it is improving data sharing and staff training.
The RCM said it welcomed the ‘vital network of specialist FGM clinics’ – pointing out that in the past three months alone in the UK, nearly 1,000 women and girls have been identified as having been affected by FGM.
The College’s professional policy adviser Janet Fyle MBE commented: “Midwives and other healthcare professionals are very often the first to identify and begin to offer care and support to survivors of FGM when they are pregnant and present to NHS maternity services.
“The clinics are very much needed and the RCM supports the launch of these specialist services in areas where there is a high prevalence of FGM cases identified in women and girls. Importantly the new clinics will be within community settings and this will enable women to self refer and access the support they need privately.”
She went on: “We are moving in the right direction, but we must continue to raise awareness amongst key health professionals and need more specialist practitioners with the expertise to do de-infibulation and to ensure survivors of FGM have access to appropriate specialist counselling services.
“From today the count down begins in terms of funding and we hope that these vital services continue to be commissioned as part of the NHS commissioning process.”