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The number of new female genital mutilation cases referred to NHS services in England has fallen by a quarter, prompting charities and campaigners to warn that the drop may be down to difficulties in accessing services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The statistics from NHS Digital revealed that for the period of October to December 2020, there were 685 newly recorded cases among women and girls, compared with 900 newly recorded cases for the same period in 2019.
During the period of July to September last year, the decrease was even greater, with new cases falling by a third. There were 635 new cases, compared with 940 cases the previous year.
In 2019, the NHS announced the opening of eight specialist FGM walk-in clinics across England, which provide access to support for thousands of women. The clinics were closed for a period in 2020 due to lockdown, meaning that women could not access these services, but they have since reopened.
Hoda Ali, an FGM survivor and co-founder of the Vavengers charity, which campaigns against the practice, said the drop in cases was not reflective of the true nature of the problem. “Lockdown has provided the perfect conditions for women and girls to be abused. FGM is still happening, but with lockdown, survivors are less likely to report cases or come forward due to the lack of services open and available. Nurses, doctors and teachers, the people most likely to catch cases, are also for the most part not available to survivors in lockdown”.
She added: “As a survivor, I’ve been waiting to hear back from my gynaecologist for over a year. I’ve spoken to an FGM survivor who, at the age of 19, is unable to access these specialist services at the moment.”
The National FGM Centre was set up in 2015 to support those who have experienced FGM and works with local government, police and the NHS to identify girls at risk. Its head, Leethen Bartholomew, said it was likely that the drop in cases recorded was related not just to centres closing during lockdown, but also to delays to routine appointments.
He said: “Most girls are cut before they turn 15, but most occurrences of FGM only come to the attention of medical professionals years after they have happened – usually when a woman has an appointment with a gynaecologist, obstetrician or a midwife. It’s likely that the drop in cases is because during the pandemic there have been fewer routine appointments for this kind of medical care, so fewer opportunities for medical staff to be aware FGM has taken place.”
Victoria Atkins, the safeguarding minister, said: “In addition to providing significant funding for charities to address FGM, we are putting victims at the heart of our work. The government is set to launch a new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls to help those affected and bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice.
“We’ve also strengthened the law to protect victims through FGM protection orders, created a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM, and have provided a statutory guidance to professionals who may come into contact with children at risk of FGM, so they can spot the signs and know how to help.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Number of new FGM cases referred to NHS in England down by a quarter | Female genital mutilation (FGM)