Doctors reminded of duty to safeguard girls at risk of FGM

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release: Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Medical defence organisation MDDUS is reminding doctors to be aware of the recently introduced mandatory duty to report cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in girls under the age of 18.

The introduction of the Serious Crime Act in October 2015 means doctors in England and Wales now have a legal obligation to report to police cases of FGM in girls under the age of 18.

The Department of Health also recently ran an FGM prevention week of action in an attempt to raise awareness and protect girls and women from this harmful and illegal practice. It is estimated that approximately 60,000 girls aged 0 to 14 living in the UK are potentially at risk.

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and doctors have an important role in its detection and prevention.

“The GMC makes it clear that FGM is considered a serious crime and child protection issue,” says MDDUS medical adviser Dr Barry Parker. “Doctors across the UK should follow the ethical guidance provided by the GMC in relation to children who have had, or may be at risk of FGM by raising concerns with an appropriate safeguarding agency so that prompt action can be taken.”

“If a girl under the age of 18 discloses that she has undergone FGM, or has physical signs of having had FGM in the past, then there is now a legal requirement in England and Wales to report the matter to the police,” says Dr Parker.

“Reporting should take place as soon as possible and certainly within a month of the initial disclosure or finding. Failure to do so is itself a breach of a doctor’s statutory duty.”

The reporting pathway differs where a third party tells a doctor that FGM has occurred or if the doctor suspects a girl is at risk.

“A doctor’s mandatory duty to report to the police does not apply if a parent, guardian, sibling or other individual discloses that a girl under 18 has had FGM, or where a doctor considers the girl to be at risk of FGM,” says Dr Parker. “In these circumstances, doctors should follow local safeguarding procedures and adhere to GMC guidance on child protection.

“For patients aged 18 or over, the Department of Health advises that local safeguarding procedures should be followed and patients should be made aware of services offering support. A safeguarding risk assessment may also be required for any other children in the family who may be at risk.

“The Act makes clear that doctors who report FGM will not be held to have breached any duty of confidentiality or any other restriction on the disclosure of information.

“However, it is advisable to explain to the girl and/or her family why a report is being made, unless this in itself would risk serious harm to anyone. Care should be taken to ensure that patients are supported and do not feel stigmatised.

“Doctors are also reminded to document concerns carefully in the patient’s record, with any decisions and actions accurately logged. It is advisable for doctor’s to contact their local safeguarding lead or medical defence organisation if they have any concerns.”

Ends

For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email rihendry@mddus.com.

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK.

For further information on MDDUS go to www.mddus.com