Eight specialist female genital mutilation (FGM) clinics led by expert midwives, nurses and doctors will open across England, the NHS has announced.
More than 1,300 women are expected to benefit from the highly specialised FGM support, which is being rolled out in Birmingham, Bristol, London and Leeds.
Typically, the NHS is first able to identify and offer support to survivors of FGM when they are pregnant, through maternity services. Over the last three months almost 1,000 women and girls were identified as having been affected.
But the new network of FGM support clinics will be able to reach women aged 18 and over with a range of services before they are pregnant.
Women accessing the walk-in clinics will be able to talk openly about their experiences of FGM and discuss possible treatment options with highly trained clinicians and staff including FGM health advocates.
Possible treatments will include de-infibulation, a minor procedure that is performed to divide the scar tissue which narrows the vagina in certain cases of FGM. This can reduce complications during childbirth if it is performed before a woman becomes pregnant.
The clinics will also work with local community groups to prevent future cases by seeking to change the culture and thinking around FGM – including the medical and psychological impact as well as the legal implications of carrying out or participating in it.
As damage caused by FGM affects women differently, each woman’s care package will be tailored to their specific needs.
Hilary Garratt, deputy chief nursing officer for England, said the clinics are ‘for women, run by women’ and ‘will benefit hundreds of women who have suffered this most severe form of abuse and violence.’
She continued: ‘We’ve listened closely to survivors and their advocates and designed these brand new services with them, meaning that these clinics, and the highly-trained staff who will work in them, represents a real step-change in the quality and timeliness of support the NHS provides.’
Janet Fyle MBE and professional policy adviser at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said the clinics are ‘very much needed’ and said their community setting enables ‘women to self refer and access the support they need privately’.
However, she warned: ‘We are moving in the right direction, but we must continue to raise awareness amongst key health professionals and need more specialist practitioners with the expertise to do de-infibulation and to ensure survivors of FGM have access to appropriate specialist counselling services.
‘From today the countdown begins in terms of funding and we hope that these vital services continue to be commissioned as part of the NHS commissioning process.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘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.’