Fewer victims of FGM in Luton seen by NHS services last year
Fewer new victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) were seen by NHS services in Luton last year, figures show.
Since recording began in 2015, health services have identified around 105 FGM victims in the area.
NHS Digital data shows in the year to March, around 15 FGM survivors attended appointments with health professionals in Luton.
All of them had their injuries recorded by the NHS for the first time, while there were 20 new victims identified the year before.
Only approximate numbers rounded to the nearest five are recorded in the data, in order to prevent identification of individual women.
Leethen Bartholomew, of the National FGM Centre, said: “This does not mean that there are fewer survivors needing this support.
“Lockdowns, school closures and fewer interactions with health, social care and other professionals, have meant many survivors are going unnoticed and are not receiving the support we know they need.
“FGM is an extremely hidden form of child abuse and there are undoubtedly women and girls who are suffering in silence.”
A reduction in face-to-face medical appointments during the pandemic has led to fewer opportunities to identify signs of abuse, according to the National FGM Centre – and the organisation has warned the problem could worsen post-pandemic.
The practice of FGM, traditional in some cultures, has been illegal in the UK since 1985, with the law strengthened in 2003 to prevent girls having treatment abroad.
Since recording began, NHS trusts and GP practices across England have identified more than 27,000 individual women and girls who have undergone FGM.
But in the year to March, FGM-related attendances at NHS appointments nationally lowered to around 10,600, compared to 12,000 the year before.
NHS Digital statisticians said it was not clear whether the change was due to a reduction in the number of women and girls seen during the pandemic or a reduction in the capacity of NHS services to report all FGM-related attendances in that time.
Mr Bartholomew added: “As society goes back to normal following a successful national vaccination campaign and the easing of restrictions, I am certain we will see those numbers rising again.
“When they do, health, social and educational professionals need to have access to the time and resources they need to ensure survivors receive the right help to overcome their physical and mental trauma.”