Call for more FGM awareness in Redbridge as dozens of victims come forward

Dozens of FGM victims were seen in Redbridge last year. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/PA Images

Dozens of FGM victims were seen in Redbridge last year. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/PA Images - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Dozens of victims of FGM in Redbridge were seen for the first time by health services last year, figures show.

Experts and campaigners are calling for increased awareness of female genital mutilation warning signs among younger women and girls.

In 2018-19, 55 victims of FGM were seen by health services in the Redbridge Clinical Commissioning Group area, NHS Digital figures show.

Of those, 25 were having their injuries reported to the NHS for the first time.

Only approximate numbers are recorded in the data, to prevent identification of individual women.

FGM, where female genitals are removed, cut or injured for non-medical reasons, is illegal in the UK, and people carrying out or assisting with the procedure can be punished by up to 14 years in prison, even if it was abroad.

Most girls are cut before they turn 15, but are frequently not identified or treated by the NHS until they are pregnant - meaning they live with the condition for much of their adult lives.

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In Redbridge, most of the women seen in 2018-19 were over 30.

According to the latest figures, at least one victim seen by Redbridge health services had one or more daughters under 18.

Last year, the country's first walk-in clinic to offer cervical screening tests to FGM victims in Redbridge opened at Whipps Cross Hospital.

A spokesman for Barts Health NHS Trust said: "The FGM clinics we run at Whipps Cross Hospital and Mile End Hospital have made it easier for women to access care for FGM related issues.

"The clinic at Whipps Cross Hospital is run on a walk-in basis, which has helped women to come forward for treatment and support.

"Women are treated with dignity and understanding in the clinics and we strongly encourage women in East London to use these services."

The National FGM Centre, a partnership between children's charity Barnardo's and the Local Government Association, has raised concerns that doctors and nurses may not recognise the warning signs of FGM.

Leethen Bartholomew, the centre's head, called for more resources to train doctors and nurses to recognise the symptoms of FGM, and to collect more comprehensive data on the women and girls affected.

Warning signs that a woman has been a victim of FGM can be physical, such as repeat urinary tract infections and incontinence, but also include psychological problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress.