Fears as more FGM cases identified
More than 500 cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) were newly identified in December, according to figures published today.
The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) said 558 new patients at acute NHS hospital trusts in England were found to have undergone the illegal procedure.
The figure increased from 466 in November, but seven more trusts - 131 out of 160 - provided statistics than the previous month.
In all there have been 1,946 newly identified cases since September, of whom 47 were under the age of 18.
The data also showed that 2,146 patients previously identified as having been subjected to FGM were being treated at the end of last month.
John Cameron, head of the NSPCC helpline, said: "These new figures indicate that female genital mutilation is a bigger problem in the UK than we thought and there are obviously children at risk of being subjected to this cruel and unnecessary practice right now.
"So it's vital that all health professionals are trained to spot the signs and alert children's services if they think a child is at risk. Those victims who have already undergone this barbaric procedure also need help to overcome the trauma.
"Since launching at the end of June 2013, the NSPCC's FGM helpline has received 512 contacts from the public and professionals, with nearly half of these cases so serious they have been referred to police and children's services.
"If anyone is worried about a child or would like support or advice they should call this helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org - and they can do this anonymously."
Tanya Barron, chief executive of charity Plan UK, which works to combat FGM worldwide, said: "The growing realisation of the scale of FGM in the UK is a reminder of the need to ensure that we continue to work hard at every level to tackle the problem.
"But in doing so, we must remember that FGM is not exclusively a UK problem. It is a global problem - and it needs a global solution. The complex causes of a practice like this are not specific to this country, and so we simply won't end FGM in the UK without it ending across the world."
The figures relate to any woman or girl who has entered hospital and is then found to have FGM.
This includes those who are being treated for FGM-related conditions, and those that are not.
Julia Lalla-Maharajh, chief executive and founder of the charity Orchid, which campaigns against FGM, said: "Female genital cutting is a social norm that has profound effects on women's physical and mental health.
" It is deeply traumatic. It results in infections that can be fatal, and can lead to sexual problems, cysts and infertility. But change is happening. Over 7,000 communities across West Africa have said they will no longer cut their daughters. This message can spread widely."