The Department of Health has asked GPs to be extra vigilant for signs that girls are at risk of female genital mutilation during the coming weeks.
Public health minister Jane Ellison said summer school holidays are ‘not without good reason’ referred to as ‘cutting season’ by health campaigners, when many young girls are taken abroad to have the illegal procedure.
In a letter to frontline health professionals, she said signs to look out for included young girls attending for inoculations before travelling to countries with a high prevalence of FGM; young girls talking about returning home for ‘special’ rituals or ceremonies; or families planning absences from school, extending the length of the summer holidays.
Traditionally carried out by medically untrained women, without the aid of anaesthetics or antiseptics, the procedue often results in long-term physical and psychological health problems. The practice, most commonly performed on young girls between infancy and the age of 15 years, is illegal in the UK, a law that extends to cover girls being taken overseas to have FGM performed.
Ms Ellison said: ‘Frontline staff are crucial in identifying and protecting against FGM, so the NHS must be even more vigilant in the coming weeks and take every possible action to prevent this abhorrent practice.’
She added: ‘Please cascade this information amongst your staff and ensure they are fully aware of their responsibility to protect girls from this act, which is illegal in the UK and extends to cover girls taken overseas.’
GPs are reminded that an upcoming mandatory ‘reporting duty’ will need to see all cases in under-18s reported directly to the police, but the DH said current responsibilities for safeguarding against abuse means there is an opportunity to step in to prevent FGM taking place.