GPs who suspect that a child has been subjected to Female Genital Mutilation should refer the parent or guardian to social services, says the Royal College of General Practitioners.
In its written evidence to the Home Office Select Committee released today, the RCGP describes FGM as 'child abuse' and calls for it to be treated as a safeguarding issue. However, the College also raises concerns about the capacity of social services to respond to referrals and is calling for a multi-agency approach to better support the young girls and women affected.
The College says it is important that all GPs are aware of the symptoms, legal and safeguarding protocols and support networks that are available for patients.
But it advises against the routine screening of young girls - as in France - saying that while this can have positive outcomes, a screening programme could alienate hard to reach individuals and communities, and could be a traumatic experience in itself.
In its evidence, the RCGP says that GPs have a number of different roles in combating FGM - such as identification of affected patients when they register at a new practice or at the start of pregnancy.
As well as providing support, compassion and treatment to women and girls who have been affected, GPs have a specific code for recording FGM and have a duty to refer patients to the relevant bodies, such as the police, social services and mental health support.
But the RCGP also cites a number of potential barriers to GP identification and intervention, including cultural sensitivities, the need to maintain patient confidentiality and concerns about the consequences of referral to the police and other agencies in cases where there is room for doubt.
It suggests a number of ways in which support and services for girls and women affected can be improved. These include:
- Developing specific care pathways for FGM that involve health, education, and social services. Developing a way for general practice and other relevant health bodies to identify those at risk from FGM.
- Engaging with affected communities by identifying and supporting people to work in a culturally sensitive way within the affected communities.
- Making culturally sensitive specialist FGM services available, especially for long term psychological consequences, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Publicising available support services such as the dedicated NSPCC helpline.
- Improving the evidence base through research into the epidemiology of FGM in the UK, its association with other forms of child abuse, long term outcomes for those affected, and the effectiveness of interventions.
The College also calls on the Select Committee to look at whether enough is being done to prosecute health professionals who perform FGM - and to make GPs aware of the kind of evidence they could collect on FGM to allow prosecutions to go ahead.
RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker said: "The RCGP views FGM as child abuse and believes that it should be treated as such by all governmental agencies. But we do not yet feel that child protection and combating FGM are properly strategically aligned.
"We also have significant concerns over the lack of detailed data on the prevalence of FGM within the UK, as planning of services cannot be adequately undertaken without knowledge of the scale of the problem.
"The College has helped to draw up a number of resources on FGM for use within primary care including a Statement on Female Genital Mutilation and a major report Tackling FGM in the UK, led by our colleagues at the Royal Colleges of Midwives and Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, which looks at the role that all health and social care professionals - including GPs - have in identifying and reporting cases of FGM.
"In conjunction with the NSPCC, we have also developed a toolkit for health professionals on safeguarding children and young people, including advice of relevance to cases of FGM."