Experience and Knowledge of Female Genital Mutilation amongst London Obstetrics and Gynaecology Trainees
Ka Ying Bonnie Ng1,2* and Balvinder Sagoo3
1Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, UK
2Academic Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Princess Anne Hospital, UK
3Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, London North West Healthcare NHS Trust, UK
Submission: April 14, 2016; Published: May 02, 2016
*Corresponding author: Ka Ying Bonnie Ng, Academic Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Princess Anne Hospital, Coxford Road, Southampton, SO16 5YA, UK; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
How to cite this article: RNg KYB, Sagoo B. Experience and Knowledge of Female Genital Mutilation amongst London Obstetrics and Gynaecology Trainees. J Gynecol Women’s Health. 2016; 1(2): 555557. DOI: 10.19080/JGWH.2016.01.555557
Our aim was to explore the knowledge and experiences of London Obstetrics and Gynaecology (O&G) trainees. An online questionnaire was designed and distributed to London O&G trainees to assess their knowledge and experiences of FGM. The questionnaire was distributed to 108 trainees, and 33 responses were obtained (response rate of 30.6 %). 84.9% were comfortable with talking to a patient about FGM, 75.8% reported that majority of patients do not volunteer information about their FGM. The significant barriers to communication were language and culture. Although most trainees (84.9%) could describe the 4 types of FGM, 42.4% had never attended FGM teaching. 72.7% knew how to refer patients to FGM services and only 42.4% were aware of FGM support groups. Focused training in FGM for O&G trainees may increase confidence, knowledge of support available and referral systems to improve quality of care for patients suffering from FGM.
Keywords: Female genital mutilation; Infundibulation; Cutting; Obstetric and gynaecology training; Learning; Communication
Conclusion: FGM: Female Genital Mutilation; O&G: Obstetrics and Gynaecology; WHO: World Health Organization
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 140 million women worldwide have undergone some form of female genital mutilation (FGM) . Approximately 91.5 million girls and women above 9 years old are currently living with consequences of FGM, with an estimated 3 million at risk of undergoing FGM every year . The problem is concentrated in Africa and middle-eastern countries, but with migration, prevalence is increasing in high-income countries. FGM in the UK is amongst those in migrant communities and annually over 20, 000 girls under 15 years of age are at risk . FGM breaches international human rights law, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child  and is a criminal offence in many areas of the world. In the UK, under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, it is illegal to infibulate or mutilates the whole, or any part of a girl’s labia minor or clitoris, whether in the UK or overseas.
There are four classes of FGM: type 1 is removal of clitoris or prepuce; type 2 is removal of the clitoris and the labia minora; type 3, ‘infundibulation’, is the narrowing of the vaginal orifice; type 4 includes other harmful procedures to female genitalia for non-medical purposes . FGM can lead to serious consequences, including infection and haemorrhage in the short-term. In the long-term, there may be post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, as well as difficulties with urination, menstruation and sexual intercourse, and numerous other gynaecological and obstetric problems [5,6]. Despite significant negative consequences, members from affected communities continue to support FGM, associating it with their female sexuality and culture . The RCOG green top guidelines emphasize that healthcare workers should actively demonstrate knowledge and respect, be familiar with the complications of FGM, and that patients should be recognized and appropriately counseled . There is also a duty of healthcare professionals to report all ‘known’ cases of FGM in under-18s which they identify in the course of their professional work, to the police .
With increasing prevalence of FGM in the UK and clinical duties to recognise FGM affected patients, we wanted to assess the knowledge and experience of FGM of obstetrics and gynecology
trainees in London, where there is a high risk population. We
aimed to establish a trainee’s confidence, and potential barriers, in
talking to patients with FGM, their knowledge of FGM and services
available to patients and finally their education on the subject.
An online questionnaire was designed and distributed to
108 London obstetrics and gynaecology trainees to assess their
knowledge and experiences of FGM in February 2015 (appendix).
Trainees were identified from the London School of Obstetrics
and Gynaecology trainees register. An email was sent out to
London obstetric and gynaecology trainees through the London
School of Obstetrics and Gynaecology with a link to the online
questionnaire. Survey Monkey was used for questionnaire design.
Participation in the study was entirely voluntary, anonymous,
and the site did not allow respondents to submit more than one
Trainee’s experience of FGM was assessed by asking them
whether they were comfortable talking about FGM to their
patients, whether patients volunteered information about their
FGM, the main complications of FGM seen in clinical practice
and factors that made consultation with FGM patients difficult.
Trainee’s knowledge and training in FGM practice was assessed
by asking them whether they were able to describe the types of
FGM practice, whether they had attended any local or national
teaching in FGM, how often the topic of FGM was raised in their
workplace, whether they were aware of FGM support groups
available, whether they know their nominated FGM consultant
or specialist nurse and whether they know how to refer to FGM
services. The results from Survey Monkey were collected and
analyzed by two independent researchers.
The questionnaire was distributed to 108 London trainees,
and 33 were completed and returned (response rate of 30.6%).
Amongst our cohort, the mean duration O&G experience was
5.2 years (range 1-14 years). The trainees were training at St
Mary’s Hospital (9/33 trainees, 23.3% of cohort), West Middlesex
Hospital (8/33, 24.2%), Chelsea and Westminster Hospital (7/33,
21.2%), Queen Charlotte’s Hospital (3/33, 9.1%), Northwick Park
Hospital (3/33, 9.1%), Hillingdon Hospital (1/33, 3%) and Ealing
Hospital (1/33, 3%).
On assessing whether trainees were comfortable with talking
about FGM to their patients, the majority (16/33, 48.5%) felt
‘quite comfortable’, 36.4% felt ‘very comfortable’, 9.1% were ‘not
comfortable’ and 6.1% were ‘not at all comfortable’. Over three
quarters (75.8%) of trainees said that FGM patients will not
volunteer information about their condition. Trainees identified
four main factors that contribute to difficulties when talking to patients with FGM; these were language barriers (54.5% of
trainees), cultural differences (24.2%), their own lack of clinical
understanding of FGM (15.2%) and patient’s psychological
vulnerability (6.1%) (Figure 1). The complications of FGM most
commonly seen by trainees are childbirth trauma (reported
by 39.4% of trainees), sexual dysfunction and dyspareunia
(18.2%), infections (15.2%), dysmenorrhoea (6.1%), PTSD (3%),
urinaryretention (3%). 3 out of 33 London trainees (9.1%) had
not encountered a case of FGM in their training (Figure 2).
The majority of trainees reported that they were able to report
all four types of FGM practice (28/33 trainees, 84.9%). 57.6%
of trainees (19/33) had attended some form of FGM training,
either at a local or national level. Figure 3 shows the trainee’s
knowledge of support groups and specialist services available to
FGM patients. Less than half of the trainees (14/33, 42.4%) were
aware of support groups available for woman affected by FGM.
Only 27.3% (9/33) and 42.4% (14/33) knew whether there was a
nominated FGM consultant or specialist nurse respectively. 72.7%
(24/33) of trainees knew how to refer patients to FGM services.
The topic of FGM is raised in the workplace most commonly once
a month (57.6% of trainees), followed by once a week (36.4%).
Our study suggests that majority of obstetrics and
gynaecology trainees in London are comfortable with discussing
FGM with their patients. However, there are many barriers to
discussing FGM with patients; over 75% of trainees reported
that these patients do not volunteer information. The difference
in language and culture are highlighted as significant barriers to
communication in these patients. Lack of clinical understanding
of FGM and also a patient’s psychological vulnerability were noted
to be relevant too. This study also identified lack of training and
education in FGM, illustrated by less than 60% of trainees in our
cohort having had some form of local or national training. Less
than half of trainees were aware of support groups available for
patients affected by FGM. Focused training in the area of FGM
amongst O&G trainees may increase confidence, knowledge of
support available and referral systems for patients suffering from
This observational study has been performed in London,
addressing a trainee cohort that is likely to have a higher exposure
to FGM patients relative to some other training areas in the UK.
The lack of trainee education and training in FGM highlighted by
our trainee cohort is therefore particularly important in London’s
multicultural community. Our study used a simple anonymous
questionnaire, which allowed submission of one questionnaire
from each participant only, avoiding duplication of results. The
anonymous nature of the study encouraged the trainees to be
honest in their responses. Online submission of the questionnaire
was convenient and allowed easy and accurate data collection.
Although the questionnaire was distributed to 108 London
obstetrics and gynaecology trainees via an email link, only 33 responded, giving a response rate of just over 30%. This means
that the findings may not be representative of the whole trainee
cohort in London. Although not done, due to small study numbers,
subgroup analysis to identify effects of years of O&G experience,
trainee level and type of hospital, would have been useful. The
study was only performed in one centre, reducing the applicability
of our findings in other training areas across the UK. Although this
was a small study, the findings still illustrate exposure of FGM to
London trainees and that their knowledge and confidence may be
significantly improved through focused training in this area.
Although FGM is performed in high risk communities, including
Africa, Asia and the Middle East, increasing migration means that
women who have been affected by FGM are increasingly found in
the UK. An estimated 137, 000 women and girls (including 10 000
girls aged under 15) in England and Wales have undergone FGM
. London has the highest prevalence rate in England and Wales;
an estimated 2.1% of women are affected by FGM . FGM refers
to ‘all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female
external genitalia for non-medical reasons’. Community base
prevention work has allowed us to establish the reasons behind
why woman continue to practice FGM, even when they have
migrated to the UK; some still support FGM, linking it to their
culture and/or control of their female sexuality .
The RCOG highlights in their revised guidelines (July 2015)
 that clinical management of women with FGM requires high
quality of care that is accessible, sensitive and informed .
Recently, the UK law states that it is a requirement for trainees to
report any girl under the age of 18 with confirmed FGM (either by
examination or because the parent or patient says that it has been
done) to the police within one month of confirmation . Such
guidance set by the royal college illustrates the importance of
increased focused training and education, to improve confidence
and knowledge in a highly sensitive discussion topic. Appropriate
communication and addressing important barriers to talking to
FGM patients is paramount, and is especially important given that
a significant proportion of patients affected will not voice their
condition voluntarily. Trainees reported that childbirth trauma
is the most commonly seen complication of FGM in clinical
practice. Women affected by FGM are 3.3 times more likely to
experience a difficult labour and 2 times more likely to have an
obstetric haemorrhage ; they are more likely to have obstetric
lacerations, instrumental deliveries and inelastic scar tissue may
cause obstruction and prolong labour . However, in the long
term, FGM affected patients have an extensive list of potential
complications, many of which were not identified by the trainees
in our cohort, including post-traumatic stress disorder and
depression, difficulties with urination, menstruation and sexual
intercourse, and numerous other gynaecological and obstetric
There are some online e-learning resources developed to
increase awareness of FGM amongst the public sector workforce.
An online FGM training package has been launched by the Home
Office, which is aimed at educating professionals who will come
into contact with girls as risk of FGM; this includes teachers,
police, doctors, social workers and Border Force staff . In
addition, Health Education England offers an online learning
resource through the ‘e-learning for Healthcare’ scheme, that
includes modules on issues surrounding FGM, communication
skills for FGM consultations and legal and safeguarding issues
regarding FGM in the UK . Although there are online e-learning
resources available, it is unclear whether trainees engage or
benefit from them. Almost 85% of trainees self-reported that they
could describe all four types of FGM, so knowledge may be sound.
However, less than 60% of trainees in our cohort had attended
any form of FGM training locally or nationally. Perhaps focused
FGM courses or ‘study days’ may be better attended and better
received by trainees and will more likely address communication
barriers and consultation skills with FGM patients. For example,
although ‘FGM’ is understood by and accepted by some women,
trainees will need to appreciate that some woman may find words
such as ‘closed’, ‘cut’, or ‘circumcised’ more suitable . Trainees
also need to be familiar with the process of reporting FGM and be
able to explain to woman its purpose.
It is also clear from our study that a significant proportion
of trainees did not know whether they had a designated FGM
consultant or specialist nurse, and there is still a significant gap in
the knowledge of referral pathways for FGM patients.
Although obstetric and gynaecology trainees are mostly
confident in discussing FGM with patients, there are still some
significant barriers to communication, namely differences in
culture and language. Our study highlights the need for focused
education and training in the area of FGM, including emphasis
on communication and consultation with patients, raising
awareness of available support groups, as well as local guidance
on the specialist referral of FGM patients. The prevalence of
FGM in the UK is increasing and every trainee is responsible for
identifying cases where there has been a violation of human
rights in vulnerable women. Trainees should have the knowledge
and training to enable the delivery of high quality care to those
affected by FGM, addressing long term psychological and physical complications.