Campaigners call for increased awareness as FGM victims treated in north Derbyshire

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More victims of FGM in north Derbyshire were seen for the first time by health services last year, figures show.

In 2018-19, between one and seven victims of FGM were seen by health services in the North Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group area, according to NHS Digital figures.

Of those, at least one was having their injuries reported to the NHS for the first time.

FGM, where female genitals are removed, cut or injured for non-medical reasons, is illegal in the UK, and people carrying out or assisting with the procedure can be punished by up to 14 years in prison, even if it happened abroad.

Most girls are cut before they turn 15, but are frequently not identified or treated by the NHS until they are pregnant - meaning they live with the condition for much of their adult lives.

In north Derbyshire, most of the women seen in 2018-19 were over 30.

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According to Janet Fyle, FGM policy lead at the Royal College of Midwives, many pregnant women are not treated until they are already in labour. They often require surgery before they can give birth.

Only approximate numbers are recorded in the data, to prevent identification of individual women.

‘WE NEED TO HAVE A MUCH MORE OPEN DIALOGUE WITH COMMUNITIES THAT PRACTICE FGM’

Experts and campaigners are calling for increased awareness of female genital mutilation warning signs among younger women and girls.

Ms Fyle, a Sierra Leonean nurse and midwife, was honoured with an MBE in 2015 for her campaigning against FGM. She said that the daughters of women with FGM are at serious risk of becoming victims themselves.

She said: “We need to have a much more open dialogue with communities that practice FGM, and think seriously about how we talk to women in those communities.

“The women need to make the link between their health and its relationship to FGM by themselves, and that will make them think - do I want this for my daughter?”

DOCTORS AND NURSES MAY NOT RECOGNISE THE WARNING SIGNS

According to the latest figures, at least one victim seen by north Derbyshire health services had one or more daughters under 18.

In addition, at least one woman gave birth to a daughter in the same appointment where FGM was identified or treated.

The National FGM Centre, a partnership between children’s charity Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, has raised concerns that doctors and nurses may not recognise the warning signs of FGM.

Leethen Bartholomew, the centre’s head, said: “Health professionals are taught to routinely ask questions about HIV, and things like that, but that’s not the case with FGM.

“These women are presenting to health services with the warning signs, but the healthcare professionals are not making the connection, and we need to ask ourselves why that is happening.”

Mr Bartholomew called for more resources to train doctors and nurses to recognise the symptoms of FGM, and to collect more comprehensive data on the women and girls affected.

Warning signs that a woman has been a victim of FGM can be physical, such as repeat urinary tract infections and incontinence, but also include psychological problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress.

WHAT IS FGM?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but there’s no medical reason for this to be done.

It’s also known as female circumcision or cutting, and by other terms, such as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others.

FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts.

It’s illegal in the UK and is child abuse.

It’s very painful and can seriously harm the health of women and girls.

It can also cause long-term problems with sex, childbirth and mental health.

PROBLEMS THAT CAN CONTINUE INTO ADULTHOOD DUE TO FGM

Difficulties urinating or incontinence

Frequent or chronic vaginal, pelvic or urinary infections

Menstrual problems

Kidney damage and possible failure

Cysts and abscesses

Pain when having sex

Infertility

SIGNS FGM MIGHT HAPPEN

A relative or someone known as a ‘cutter’ visiting from abroad.

A special occasion or ceremony takes place where a girl ‘becomes a woman’ or is ‘prepared for marriage’.

A female relative, like a mother, sister or aunt has undergone FGM.

A family arranges a long holiday overseas or visits a family abroad during the summer holidays.

A girl has an unexpected or long absene from school.

A girl struggles to keep up in school

A girl runs away – or plans to run away - from home.

WHERE CAN I GET HELP?

If someone is in immediate danger, contact the police immediately by dialling 999.

If you’re concerned that someone may be at risk, contact the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.

If you’re under pressure to have FGM performed on your daughter, ask a GP, your health visitor or another healthcare professional for help, or contact the NSPCC helpline.

If you have had FGM, you can get help from a specialist NHS gynaecologist or FGM service – ask a GP, your midwife or any other healthcare professional about services in your area.

The nearest FGM specialist support clinic is in Leeds at Oakwood Medical Practice, contact here: 07824580988

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