NHS hospitals will have to submit data on the number of girls and women who have suffered female genital mutilation (FGM), the government has announced.
Among a range of measures aimed at targeting the illegal practice, it will be mandatory for hospitals to tell the Department of Health on a monthly basis of any cases they see of FGM.
The data will be held centrally and shared with other government departments and the police to build up a picture of the extent of FGM across the UK.
The announcement comes after a senior Scotland Yard officer said young girls who have suffered FGM were being failed by doctors who do not report cases to the police.
Detective Superintendent Jason Ashwood, head of Scotland Yard’s FGM team, told The Times: “I can hardly think of an example of a doctor calling up to say ‘I have someone (with FGM) with me in A&E, please can you send an officer’. That just does not happen.
“It’s clear when professionals are seeing people who are survivors or at risk of FGM, it’s not being referred to police. What we need is to get our people in the public sector to fulfil their safeguarding responsibilities.
“It’s child abuse. Police are just at the end of the line of the process. You can only react to what you find, and what you are told.”
Government rules say healthcare professionals have a duty to safeguard patients at risk or girls who have undergone FGM. Doctors are told to inform social services who work with the police to determine what action is required.
Latest figures suggest that as many as 66,000 women in England and Wales have undergone FGM and 23,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk.
The Home Office also announced a new £100,000 fund, which will enable charities to bid for pots of cash to raise awareness of FGM in communities.
Crime prevention minister Norman Baker said: “There is no justification whatsoever for female genital mutilation - it is child abuse and it is illegal.
“We have launched a new FGM Community Engagement Initiative, we are continuing our work with the director of public prosecutions to help secure convictions and we are part-funding a study into the prevalence of FGM in the UK.
“I am chairing a cross-government ministerial round-table to discuss our work to end FGM and reaffirm our commitment to protecting the current and future generations of girls from this abuse.”
Hospitals will have to record if a patient has had FGM, if there is a family history of FGM and if a woman has undergone a procedure related to FGM. This includes deinfibulation, where the vagina is opened up again such as for childbirth.
Public health minister Jane Ellison said: “Female genital mutilation is an abhorrent practice that has no place in this - or any other - society.
“In order to combat it and ensure we can care properly for the girls and women who have undergone mutilation we need to build a more accurate nationwide picture of the challenge. This is the first step towards doing that.”
International development minister Lynne Featherstone said: “We will not see an end to FGM in the UK unless the practice is eliminated worldwide. This will take a grassroots movement across Africa that can change attitudes and help communities see FGM for what it is - child abuse.”
Janet Fyle professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “FGM is child abuse and we want midwives, health and social care professionals and other frontline staff to be vigilant, and take action if they are concerned about a young girl at risk of FGM.”
The Director of Public Prosecutions in the UK, Alison Saunders, has insisted the Crown Prosecution Service is “raising its game” over FGM.
There have been no prosecutions for FGM despite it being banned in the UK since 1985.
Alison Saunders told The Times: “We are really stepping up what we are doing on FGM. This is not a problem unique to London.
“I want to make sure we are there to provide advice to the police forces dealing with cases, as these are incredibly difficult to prosecute. This network will share information so that we are raising our game consistently across the country.”
She added that the CPS is increasingly looking at evidence secured by covert surveillance, to avoid the need for a child to testify in court - often against a family member.
FGM guidelines already issued by the government state that if a girl is identified as having had FGM, this should always be reported to the police as it is likely to be a crime.
If a girl is identified as being at risk, which she would be if an older family member has undergone FGM, then safeguarding child protection procedures should be followed.
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