The first walk-in clinic in England offering cervical screening tests to women who have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM) has opened at Whipps Cross Hospital.
According to NHS Digital there were 5,391 newly recorded cases of FGM reported in England in 2016-17 with almost half of all cases relating to women and girls living in London.
The clinic, run by Barts Health NHS Trust, in Waltham Forest gives local women the opportunity to use a convenient walk-in service with an FGM specialist gynaecologist, psycho-social practitioner, an FGM specialist midwife, a female FGM trained sample taker and access to an interpreter.
The clinic also offers psychological support, information and advice and deinfibulation, a minor operation to divide the scar tissue which narrows the vaginal opening.
A 27-year-old FMG survivor (who wishes to remain anonymous) said: “I will use this clinic because it’s run by specialist women who understand about the issues I’m facing. The clinic has access to everything I need which is important. I will be telling my friends about this new service.”
GPs and practice nurses will now be able to direct patients to have a cervical screening test at the clinic which is open to women in Waltham Forest, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Redbridge. No appointment is required for the specialist service.
Dr Reeba Oliver, a Barts Health NHS Trust Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist who is running the clinic said, “The clinic offers a specialist service for FGM survivors, particularly those who avoid having a cervical screening test because of the fear that a vaginal examination evokes due to the psychological trauma they have experienced. Additionally, in some cases an examination and smear is only possible after deinfibulation and the clinic offers this minor operation on the same day.
“FGM has serious health consequences that go into adulthood. There are long-term emotional, psychological and physical effects from the damage caused by FGM. I strongly encourage women in the borough to come and use the service, they will be treated with support, dignity and understanding.”
The new FGM service follows the launch of specialist maternity care at Whipps Cross Hospital in 2015 for women who have experienced FGM.
FGM is a form of child abuse and refers to procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons and is illegal in the UK.
Cllr Clare Coghill, Leader of Waltham Forest Council, said: “This new walk-in clinic is vital for our diverse community and offers local FGM survivors a safe space to have a cervical screening test and to get specialist support.
“The practice of FGM is horrific and it must be stopped. We are working closely with the community to protect girls at risk. We know FGM is under-reported. This clinic is a step forward in breaking down some of those barriers through promoting the service in the borough.”
Dr Sabeena Pheerunggee, Clinical Lead for Safeguarding at NHS Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and a local GP, said: “The opening of this clinic will allow us to provide support and care to FGM survivors in an environment designed to meet their needs.
“For many of these women, coming forward to explain what happened to them can be an extremely difficult and trying experience. As a GP, it is reassuring to know that this service is now available in this area. It is only by providing this specialist support that we will encourage survivors to come forward and seek help.'
The walk-in clinic will be held on the final Monday of the month from 9am-12pm at the Perineal Clinic, Area A, Outpatients building, Whipps Cross Hospital, Leytonstone, London E11 1NR. This is a joint partnership between Barts Health NHS Trust, Waltham Forest CCG and Waltham Forest Council.