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Nurses are vital in the fight against FGM

Tagged In:  Nursing

With compulsory reporting of female genital mutilation now firmly embedded in health legislation, nurses and midwives are at the forefront of the battle to stop this immoral and illegal practice.

In February last year, the government announced a range of measures to tackle female genital mutilation (FGM), which we discussed in a previous blog. In the following October, the duty to report FGM became mandatory for health and social care professionals. And in April this year, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) updated its FGM guidance, highlighting the important role that nurses and midwives (and particularly community nurses) can play in safeguarding girls and young women.

FGM is illegal in England and Wales, and legislation requires health and social care professionals to report to the police all cases in under 18s they come across in the course of their day-to-day work. However, the RCN guidance goes further, telling health visitors and community children's nurses (CCNs) that they have a 'responsibility to ensure families know that the practice of FGM is illegal and are in an ideal position to act if they consider a girl or young woman is at risk'.

The guidance also advises community and practice nurses to be on the lookout for behavioural changes that may indicate a risk of harm. For example, prolonged visits to the toilet may indicate that a child is having difficulty urinating following FGM.

"Nurses, midwives and other healthcare staff are well placed to help protect women and girls from this deplorable abuse, but need strong support and thorough training to do so, " commented Carmel Bagness, the RCN's Professional Lead for Midwifery and Women's Health.

Health Education England (HEE) has developed an FGM e-learning programme, available free of charge to all healthcare professionals. More details are available here. In addition, Recognising and Preventing FGM is a free course provided by the Virtual College on behalf of the Home Office.

Because FGM is only prevalent in certain communities, many nurses may never encounter a single case. However, it's widely acknowledged that the key to addressing the issue is greater general awareness. There are no official statistics relating to the practice in the UK, but a 2015 report by City University estimated that the number of women and girls with FGM in England and Wales was 137,000. The NSPCC's website says that it has responded to over 1,200 contacts about FGM since June 2013, with more than a third of these resulting in a referral to police or children's services.

"In recent years there has been a real consensus that more needs to be done to tackle FGM and protect some of the most vulnerable members of society," said Carmel Bagness. With the right training and support, nurses and midwives can lead the way.

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