Dozens of victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Leeds were seen for the first time by health services last year.
Experts and campaigners are calling for increased awareness of the warning signs among younger women and girls. In 2018-19, 40 victims of FGM were seen in the Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group area, NHS Digital figures show. Of those, it is likely that most or all were having their injuries reported to the NHS for the first time.
FGM, where female genitals are removed, cut or injured for non-medical reasons, is illegal in the UK, and people carrying out or assisting with the procedure can be punished by up to 14 years in prison. Most girls are cut before they turn 15, but are frequently not identified or treated by the NHS until they are pregnant.
In Leeds, most of the women seen in 2018-19 were aged between 18 and 29. According to the latest figures, at least three victims seen by Leeds health services had one or more daughters under 18. In addition, at least one woman gave birth to a daughter in the same appointment where FGM was identified or treated.
The National FGM Centre, a partnership between Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, has raised concerns that doctors and nurses may not recognise the warning signs, which can be physical, such as repeat urinary tract infections and incontinence, or psychological. Leethen Bartholomew, the centre’s head, said: “These women are presenting to health services with the warning signs, but the healthcare professionals are not making the connection.”