A guide to help A&E nurses and other staff report cases of female genital mutilation has been drawn up by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in light of new legal responsibilities.
At the end of October 2015 it became a legal requirement for all health professionals in England and Wales to report known cases of FGM in girls under the age of 18 to the police.
The college noted that “any violation of human rights or issues relating to child protection must always be taken very seriously”.
It highlighted that the new requirement – due to an amendment to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 – now meant any healthcare professional who failed to report a case could risk losing their registration and career.
“It is essential that all healthcare professionals are aware of what FGM is and their clinical and legal responsibilities regarding the matter,” said the RCEM.
The RCEM said its new guide was a “practical pathway” to for staff report FGM and to help them support both adults and children who are at risk of the illegal practice, or have previously undergone FGM.
It includes a flowchart of actions explaining which other professionals should be notified, the information required from the patient and the recommended support they should be offered, as well a map of countries more likely to carry out FGM.
“Frontline staff should be empowered to recognise and manage those patients who have undergone or are at risk of FGM by developing their knowledge and awareness”
Royal College of Emergency Medicine
The RCEM highlighted there was no requirement for practitioners to ask every female if she has undergone FGM - only those believed to be from a high-risk area or background.
It stressed that “if FGM is discovered or disclosed during a patient’s journey then it is mandatory that this is recorded by the healthcare professional who makes the discovery in the patient’s health records”.
While women over the age of 18 who have undergone FGM do not need to be referred to the police or social services, they should be offered relevant support, said the guide. In addition, other females within the family who may be at risk – especially children – should be identified.
Meanwhile, any girls under the age of 18 who present with symptoms of FGM, or disclose that fact, should be reported to the police, and relevant safeguarding procedures should be triggered, said the RCEM.
This information must be shared with the GP and health visitor as part of safeguarding actions included within the 1989 Children Act, said the college.
“Frontline staff should be empowered to recognise and manage those patients who have undergone or are at risk of FGM by developing their knowledge and awareness of the subject,” it added.
The RCEM guide is in addition to a number of other resources published by the Department of Health and NHS England in 2015.
Last summer the Royal College of Midwives called for a national action plan to be drawn up after more than 1,000 cases of FGM were reported in England in the first three months of 2016.