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NHS: Treatment of Patients with FGM

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the impact ofthe reduction in staff at the African clinic at the Central Middlesex Hospital, responsible for gynaecological and antenatal treatment of patients with female genital mutilation.

My Lords, NHS London has informed the department that there will be no reduction of staff at the African Well Women’s Clinic at Central Middlesex Hospital. The clinic will continue to run weekly for the same length of time. I am informed that the consultant at the clinic retired on 3 July and has been replaced by another consultant from North West London Hospitals NHS Trust. I am assured that there will be no impact on patients.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very reassuring reply. Mr Harry Gordon, the retiring surgeon, performed more than 4,000 repair operations on patients in the nine years during which he was there. Can my noble friend say whether the incoming surgeon will be competent to perform reversals, which are so essential for women who have been mutilated? Can he confirm that there are only seven clinics specialising in FGM in the NHS? Are there plans to open any more such clinics in the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I am happy to join my noble friend in paying tribute to the work done byMr Harry Gordon before his retirement. I understand from the trust that his replacement will be able to perform all the necessary duties in the light of the assessment of the women who come forward through the clinic. I cannot answer off the top of my head her question about the number of FGM clinics and services across England, but I will certainly make inquiries and write to her.

My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness that there were 385 attendances in 2004-05 and 650 in 2005-06. In the current year, it looks as though there will be about 600 to 650.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that people take their young children and young adults back to their country of origin to have this fiendish and horrible female circumcision undertaken? When they come back, they have all sorts of infection problems. Also, when they have babies, they have to be unstitched. It is therefore essential that there are specialised people to perform that procedure.

My Lords, I am aware of that. Taking children abroad for that procedure was made illegal in the 2003 Act. I pay tribute to the work done on that Act by my noble friend Lady Rendell.

My Lords, giventhe previous three questions, especially concerning numbers, will my noble friend say what education processes are going on in the NHS to discuss the issue with surgeons and the women involved to improve the situation?

My Lords, we have been working with FORWARD, the Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development, in this area. We have provided it with funding to make a DVD to educate health professionals and we are working with it on a prevalence study of this condition across the NHS. We will continue to work with it to ensure that health professionals are well informed in this area.

My Lords, what work is being done in the community and in schools on this issue, so that the next generation growing up realises the damage that is done to women by continuing this practice?

My Lords, we continue to do that work through FORWARD and PCTs. It is down to the local NHS, which may have populations in its area that are vulnerable to the practice, to ensure thatthere is knowledge and that action can be taken. I understand that the Metropolitan Police are discussing some of these issues and the possible movement of young people overseas who are at risk of having this operation conducted on them.

My Lords, I do not have that information immediately to hand, but I will write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the very important Act of 2003, which made it a crime punishable by imprisonment of up to 14 years to take, or to aid and abet the taking of, girls or women abroad. The problem is very serious, as has been said in the Chamber. What is his department doing to investigate the number of women being taken abroad for this mutilation and to prevent it happening?

My Lords, it is for the police in these circumstances to conduct any necessary inquiries. That is why I mentioned, in response to an earlier question, that there has been contact between the department and the Metropolitan Police, who wish to make links with other agencies undertaking activity on FGM because they are aware that in the summer young girls are vulnerable to becoming victims in this respect by being flown to countries that practise FGM. We need to work closely with the police and will continue to do so.