FGM, also known as female circumcision or cutting, is practised most widely in Africa but also occurs in some Asian and Middle Eastern countries. Girls and women from a variety of religious backgrounds are affected as this is a social rather than a religious custom.
There are different types of FGM but it always involves removal of all or part of the external genitalia, and is commonly performed in childhood, often in unhygienic conditions with no anaesthetic. In the short-term FGM may cause severe pain, and potentially life-threatening bleeding and infection.
FGM is illegal in the UK yet many women are suffering from long-term psychological and medical consequences of this procedure. These include urinary and vaginal infections, painful periods, sexual difficulties and complications during childbirth. In many cases these problems can be treated or prevented by a minor surgical procedure known as deinfibulation, or reversal, in which scar tissue is opened up to restore the normal vaginal opening. This procedure can usually be performed under local anaesthetic.
What is the West London African Women’s Service?
This service encompasses both a hospital and community clinic. It is led by Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Gubby Ayida, and Clinical Lecturer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology Naomi Low-Beer, co-ordinated by specialist midwife Debora Alcayde. Pregnant women booked for antenatal care at C&W will continue to be seen in a dedicated hospital antenatal clinic, now named the West London African Women’s Hospital Clinic, and where necessary, reversals will be carried out on Labour Ward. The majority of women who are not pregnant will now be seen in a monthly community FGM clinic, the West London African Women’s Community Clinic, based at the WLCSH, Charing Cross Hospital. This clinic will provide comprehensive gynaecological and sexual health care, supported by a Somali facilitator, Sagal Ali Osman, and a sexual health team: doctors Rachael Jones, Lazara Dominguez-Garcia and Health Advisor Katie Hopkins. FGM reversals can be undertaken in this clinic, avoiding unnecessary travel to hospital. For those requiring complex surgery or requesting reversal under general anaesthetic, direct listing for surgery at C&W will be arranged.
How can women access the West London African Women’s Service?
Our aim is to make the West London African Women’s Service accessible to as many women as possible, irrespective of where they live and the language they speak. We will be working closely with community outreach teams and will have interpreters on-hand. Women who are not pregnant can self-refer to the West London African Women’s Community Clinic at the West London Centre for Sexual Health, Charing Cross Hospital.
Appointments at the Community FGM Clinic can be accessed by:
Pregnant women booked for their antenatal care at Chelsea and Westminster will usually be referred to the West London African Women’s Hospital Clinic at their booking visit. For women who are not pregnant, and who would prefer to be seen in the hospital gynaecology clinic, referral can be made by their GP in the usual way, or by a C&W hospital doctor using a tertiary referral form.
For more information on the FGM Clinic please contact our Gynaecology Clinical Nurse Lead Kathryn Mangold.