The campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) will only succeed if school nurse numbers are hugely increased, a public sector union has warned.
Unite said on Friday that school nurses are in an excellent position to evaluate FGM matters and provide practical help for pupils.
But it said that a recruitment campaign, reflecting the nation’s eclectic population, is needed because there are insufficient nursing numbers.
Unite, which includes the Community and Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, also recommended additional training.
February 6 is designated as International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, an annual event coordinated by the United Nations. It prompted the government to announce last week that NHS hospitals will have to submit data on the number of girls and women who have suffered FGM.
Obi Amadi, Unite lead professional officer, welcomed the fact that FGM and the permanent damage it does to females in later years has leapt to the head of the political agenda after years of campaigning.
She said: “This is a complex area with layers of cultural sensitivities which pose challenges to health professionals, including health visitors and school nurses.”
Amadi added that school nurses should be at the forefront of any FGM campaign, but warned that 3,000-6,000 more nurses are needed.
There are only 1,169 full-time qualified school nurses in England, compared to 4,000 secondary schools in the UK.
Amadi went on: “For those who have already been affected by FGM, we need to ensure they have access to the right specialist services to support them.”
New statistics suggest that 66,000 women in England and Wales have suffered FGM and 23,000 girls below the age of 15 are at risk.
The government also announced a new £100,000 kitty, which will enable charities to bid for funding to increase awareness of FGM in communities.
Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said he is determined the government will do everything it can to bring perpetrators to justice.
He said: “The law in this country applies to absolutely everyone and political or cultural sensitivities must not get in the way of preventing, uncovering and prosecuting those who instigate and carry out FGM.”
Are you able to Speak out Safely?
Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS