School nurses are in an ideal position to monitor incidences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), but there is a severe shortage of them nationwide.
The latest workforce statistics (October 2013) show only 1,169 full time qualified school nurses in England. However, there are more than 4,000 secondary schools in the UK, and it is estimated that 3,000 more are needed, and eventually this number should be doubled.
FGM is illegal in the UK and more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk in this country. However, due to its hidden nature, the true extent is unknown.
Unite, which embraces the Community and Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, said for the current campaign against FGM to be successful, there has to be a major recruitment drive of school nurses. Unite lead professional officer Obi Amadi said: “After years of campaigning, the issue of FGM and the lasting harm it does to young girls and women in later life has jumped to the top of the political agenda, which we warmly welcome.
“However, this is a complex area with layers of cultural sensitivities which pose challenges to health professionals, including health visitors and school nurses.
“School nurses need to be at the forefront of this campaign, but there are not enough of them. FGM is a key opportunity for teachers, with school nurse support, to educate and support children. The Department for Education has expressed that it wants to work with health and teaching unions on this. We must improve knowledge of all professionals working with children so that cultural understanding - or lack of - is not an issue.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to this painful, unneccesary procedure. As well as the risk of infection, and damage to organs, there are long-term physical and psychological consequences, including infertility, chronic vaginal and pelvic infections and depression.
School nurse Jessica Streeting said: “ Until the government puts money behind the school health service, we have little opportunity to support and navigate the path to wellbeing in the school community.”