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FGM: signs nurses should look for

It is 'cutting season' for female genital mutilation (FGM) and nurses must be aware of the signs to look for, said Jane Ellison, parliamentary under secretary of state for public health.

Nurses should look out for young girls attending for inoculations to travel to countries with high FGM prevalence, or young girls talking about travelling home for 'special' ceremonies or rituals.

School nurses should be aware of families planning absence from school that would extend the summer holiday period.

“Frontline staff are crucial in identifying and protecting against FGM, so the NHS must be even more vigilant in the coming weeks and take every possible action to prevent this abhorrent practice,” Ellison said.

Staff from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) helpline have now been trained by FGM health experts so that NHS staff can call them 24/7 with queries or to discuss the often complex circumstances surrounding FGM. The helpline number is 0800 028 3550.

There are also free FGM e-learning training modules available, developed by Health Education England, including an introduction to FGM, modules on adult women and children, communication skills for staff and legal issues.

The latest government guidance on safeguarding for FGM states that if any child (under-18) or vulnerable adult in your care has symptoms or signs of FGM, or if you have good reason to suspect they are at risk of FGM having considered their family history or other relevant factors, they must be referred using standard existing safeguarding procedures, which is often to the local Children's Services or the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub, unless there are other local arrangements.

Additionally, when a patient is identified as being at risk of FGM, this information must be shared with the GP and health visitor as part of safeguarding actions (see section 47 of the 1989 Children Act).

There is no requirement for automatic referral of adult women with FGM to adult social services or the police, referral to community groups is advised and “the wishes of the woman must be respected at all times,” but any other at risk family members should be considered.