Call to highlight dangers of female genital mutilation

Use trusted professional capacity to develop effective collaboration with patients and families, community nurses told

Primary Health CareNurses have an important role in preventing female genital mutilation and in providing sensitive care for women and girls who have undergone the procedure, an article in Primary Health Care journal warns.

King’s College London lecturer in mental health Niall McCrae and lecturer in child health Sheena Bynoe have written about the growing number of girls and women affected by female genital mutilation (FGM).

The authors state that although FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, healthcare services have lacked a ‘robust response’ until recent years.

They say nurses are in a ‘prime position’ to help protect girls from the practice, but they note that there are many obstacles to dealing with this complex issue, including changing attitudes in communities where traditional cultures are resilient. The authors say nurses need guidelines, training and robust procedures to help them detect and report actual and potential cases.

However, they acknowledge that progress is beginning to be made in the UK, citing the launch of a 24-hour helpline by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children for anyone at risk of FGM.

‘All observed cases of mutilation should be recorded by health practitioners,’ they say.

‘Opportunities to examine women arise in maternity care, and the recording of FGM by midwives, community nurses and health visitors is a vital contribution to the protection of girls. At booking, midwives should talk about FGM to women from communities where it is practised, particularly as this may have significant implications for the birth.’

According to Unicef report from 2013, more than 125 million girls and women have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM is concentrated.

FGM involves removing part or all of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons, and it is illegal for a UK national or permanent resident to be taken abroad for FGM even in countries where the practice is legal.

Primary Health Care also reports the RCN’s publication of guidance on recognising and tackling FGM.

Speaking at a conference in London to launch the guidance in February, RCN professional lead for midwifery and women’s health Carmel Bagness said nurses should have ‘professional curiosity’ and ask their patients simple questions to help them detect whether women and girls in their community are at risk of FGM.

‘Healthcare professionals could ask very simple and generic questions of their patients during appointments, regardless of how busy they are,’ she said. ‘For example, if a woman is not coming in for a smear test then they should be asking them why.’

Just days later, crime prevention minister Lynne Featherstone announced that health and social care professionals have a mandatory duty to report cases of FGM.

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The role of community nurses in preventing female genital mutilation

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