Mandatory FGM reporting in England and Wales

DOCTORS in England and Wales will be required to report "known" cases of female genital mutilation in girls under age 18 from October 2015.

This new "mandatory duty" was introduced in the Serious Crime Act 2015 and means that the responsibility to report will lie with individual professionals including healthcare workers, teachers and social workers.

The GMC has provided a 'Hot topics' guidance page for doctors on the new requirement in England and also updates and advice for doctors in the rest of the UK dealing with FGM patients.

The GMC website says: "There are important ethical issues raised by this new duty, including the question of whether there may ever be circumstances in which reporting is a disproportionate interference with a child’s privacy rights."

The GMC has asked the Home Office to consider this question in new guidance it is developing to help professionals understand what will be expected of them when told about or discovering that a child has experienced FGM.

The proposed statutory guidance defines "known" cases are those where "either a girl informs the person that an act of FGM – however described – has been carried out on her, or where the person observes physical signs on a girl appearing to show that an act of FGM has been carried out and the person has no reason to believe that the act was, or was part of, a surgical operation…"

A health professional will be expected to report any case to the police force in the area where the girl resides within one month but the "working expectation" is that the report should be made by the close of the next working day. Professionals will be expected to carry out this duty in line with existing safeguarding standard practice.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, FGM has been a criminal offence since 1985 (as in the rest of the UK) but there have been no legal changes directly affecting how doctors should respond to FGM, though this may change in future.