NHS to open specialist FGM support clinics across England

This article was taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/sep/12/nhs-to-open-specialist-fgm-support-clinics-across-england

By Aamna Mohdin

The NHS is opening female genital mutilation support clinics across England that will allow survivors to access expert care and treatment earlier.

More than 1,300 women are expected to benefit from the highly specialised FGM support being rolled out in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and five boroughs in London, according to NHS England.

Women who have had FGM often first come into contact with NHS services after they become pregnant. The eight new centres aim to reach a broader group of women, particularly those who are younger and not pregnant, to provide swift support and treatment.

The clinics 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 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.”

Hilary Garratt, deputy chief nursing officer for England, said:“We have listened closely to survivors and their advocates and designed these services with them, meaning these clinics, and the highly trained staff who will work in them, represent 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 [taking into account] the impact this has on their families, communities and, of equal importance, the next generation.”

The clinics will also work with local community groups, including Women’s Health and Family Services, Manor Gardens (Dahlia Project), Forward, and the Ayda centre, to change the culture and thinking around FGM.

Naana Otoo-Oyortey, the executive director of Forward (the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development), said: “The community advocates’ component of these services will provide valuable outreach opportunities to tackle much needed prevention work that has been underfunded within the UK.

“Unfortunately, these new services still do not cater to under-18s due to the mandatory reporting policy which states that all girls under 18 who are found to have had FGM are reported to the police. This is a major deterrent for young girls under 18 who want to access support services for FGM.”

Miranda Dobson, communications manager for Orchid Project, a UK-based NGO campaigning to end FGM, said: “This is a much needed, dedicated, specialised support for survivors of female genital cutting in the UK and Orchid Project welcomes [the] launch.

“It’s especially encouraging to see that this network of clinics will work with local community groups, which we hope will encourage more survivors to seek health services free from stigma.”

Dobson called for the services to be expanded to meet any increases in demand, adding the data on the number of women and girls affected by the practice in the UK is incomplete.

Jay Kamara-Frederick, an anti-FGM activist, said: “It’s great that these services have been extended. All women who have experienced female genital cutting need access to the same level of support and care, not just pregnant women.

“Having these clinics is a positive step in the right direction to making support inclusive. Hopefully all women will feel empowered to visit a clinic even as a starting point for better understanding their bodies, especially from a reproductive health and wellbeing perspective.”