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Scale of female genital mutilation treatment for city health boards revealed

Medics in Scotland’s biggest cities have treated victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) on more than 230 occasions over the last two years, according to newly-uncovered figures.

The statistics were revealed by Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, who said the “barbaric” practice must be wiped out entirely.

Responses to a freedom of information request from the party show that NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) recorded treating women identified with FGM on at least 138 occasions in 2017 and 2018.

In NHS Lothian, which covers Edinburgh, 93 occasions were noted over that two year period.

Questions submitted to Scotland’s 12 other territorial health boards showed that they had recorded very low or no cases of FGM in their area.

Jo Swinson MP said FGM must be ‘completely eradicated’ (Andrew Matthews/PA)

In its response, NHSGGC stressed that it could not confirm the “true prevalence” of FGM in the health board area because some patients may have been admitted to hospital for an unrelated issue.

It is also possible that there are “significant numbers” of patients with FGM who have not been admitted to hospital, the board said.

The figures were revealed after the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM was marked on Wednesday.

And at the start of February, the mother of a three-year-old girl became the first to be found guilty of FGM in the UK.

The Ugandan woman, 37, from east London, was found guilty of cutting her daughter after a trial at the Old Bailey.

East Dunbartonshire MP Ms Swinson, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “These figures show that NHS professionals across Scotland are recording treating women who have experienced FGM.

“It is a barbaric and traumatic practice that must be completely eradicated. Nobody should be in any doubt that it is child abuse and it is against the law.

“The Scottish and UK governments, police and other services must work closely to protect women and girls from FGM. They must also ensure that there are sufficient resources for training and support services to help women and girls who are victims of FGM to deal with the physical and psychological consequences.

“We waited a long time to see the first conviction in the UK for female genital mutilation. It should pave the way for further concerted action.”

Dr Duncan McCormick, consultant in public health medicine at NHS Lothian, said: “We are very clear in our commitment to and responsibility for identifying and treating children and women at high risk of FGM in Lothian.

“It is a form of abuse and gender based violence that has serious short and long term physical and psychological consequences, and if any health professional has concerns they have a responsibility to share that information to safeguard the wellbeing of women and children.

“FGM is a hugely complex and sensitive issue that requires health professionals to approach the subject carefully. We need to ask the right questions in a straightforward and sensitive way to establish the understanding and relationship needed to ensure that the girl or woman, and her family members, are given the care, protection and safeguarding they need.”

An NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde spokesman said: “We have no confirmation that FGM is being practised in Scotland, however there is intelligence that cutting does happen elsewhere in the UK.

“There is a clinic at the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital, run by the SNIPS team (Special Ne in Pregnancy Service), which sees all women who have disclosed FGM.

“For the most part, they do not need any treatment and will more than likely go on to have a normal birth.

“A small number of women are referred to the gynaecological services. Of those who are referred, some request no treatment in the antenatal period, and would rather wait for the intrapartum period, which is the recommendation from The World Health Organisation.”

Minister for Older People and Equalities Christina McElvie MSP said: “FGM is an abhorrent practice, a form of abuse and a violation of the human rights of women and girls.

Scotland already has robust laws in place to tackle this illegal practice and we are taking action to prevent and eradicate FGM and ensure that public and third sector services stand ready to support those at risk.

“We want to strengthen protections further, introduce protection orders for women and girls at risk and place guidance for professionals on a statutory footing.”

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