A toolkit has been launched to help healthcare professionals deal with female genital mutilation (FGM).
Developed by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) in conjunction with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) which has advice on cases of FGM.
The College has also helped to draw up a number of resources on FGM for use within primary care including a Statement on Female Genital Mutilation and a major report Tackling FGM in the UK, led by the Royal Colleges of Midwives and Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, which looks at the role that all health and social care professionals have in identifying and reporting cases of FGM.
The RCGP believe FGM is child abuse, and should be dealt with as a safeguarding issue.
Nurses or GPs who suspect that a child has been subjected to FGM should refer the parent or guardian to social services, the RCGP has said.
In written evidence to the Home Office Select Committee, the RCGP raises concerns about the capacity of social services to respond to referrals and is calling for a multi-agency approach to better support the young girls and women affected.
The College says it is important that all GPs are aware of the symptoms, legal and safeguarding protocols and support networks that are available for patients.
Healthcare professionals could have a number of different roles in combating FGM - such as identification of affected patients when they register at a new practice or at the start of pregnancy, RCGP has said.
But the RCGP also cites a number of potential barriers to identification and intervention, including cultural sensitivities, the need to maintain patient confidentiality and concerns about the consequences of referral to the police and other agencies in cases where there is room for doubt.
It suggests a number of ways in which support and services for girls and women affected can be improved. These include:
- Developing specific care pathways for FGM that involve health, education, and social services. Developing a way for general practice and other relevant health bodies to identify those at risk from FGM.
- Engaging with affected communities by identifying and supporting people to work in a culturally sensitive way within the affected communities.
- Making culturally sensitive specialist FGM services available, especially for long term psychological consequences, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Publicising available support services such as the dedicated NSPCC helpline.
- Improving the evidence base through research into the epidemiology of FGM in the UK, its association with other forms of child abuse, long term outcomes for those affected, and the effectiveness of interventions.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: "The RCGP views FGM as child abuse and believes that it should be treated as such by all governmental agencies. But we do not yet feel that child protection and combating FGM are properly strategically aligned.
"We also have significant concerns over the lack of detailed data on the prevalence of FGM within the UK, as planning of services cannot be adequately undertaken without knowledge of the scale of the problem."
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