Can the dental profession have a role in identifying and reporting girls at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)?
Can the dental profession have a role in identifying and reporting girls at risk of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)? Delegates at the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry annual conference were left in no doubt that they should raise concerns where they believe a girl might be at risk.
Dentists and their teams also have a duty to tell the police if they believe that the patient they are treating might be trafficked or a victim of modern slavery. This message was strongly conveyed at a safeguarding session at which three inspirational guest speakers educated their audience about both forms of abuse and explained signs to look out for and when to go to the authorities.
The first of these were Detective Chief Inspector Leanne Pook of Avon and Somerset policy and Jacalyn Mathers MBE, Designated Nurse for Safeguarding Children in the Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group, an impressive double act who managed to be entertaining despite the subject matter.
They told us that in the UK some 60,000 girls and young women are at risk of FGM while around 10,000 may have had the procedure. It is mistakenly associated with religious practice but in fact pre-dates all the world religions. In the 19th century in this country it was a procedure used to treat women considered to be suffering from depression or hysteria.
DCI Leanne Pook said FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 and it was a matter of shame that no-one had yet been convicted although one dentist had been erased from the register as a result of his role in a procedure.
DCI Pook said dental practices have been identified by perpetrators as potential clinical facilities where a girl might undergo FGM. She advised dental teams to be concerned if they were told that a young girl was going away for a “holiday” to certain at risk destinations or a “special celebration” or to take notice when a child who had previously been lively and active became subdued and troubled. “Always share your concerns,” she said, advising her audience to follow up with professional safeguarding personnel in the local social care team.
The final speaker was Kate Garbers, Managing Director of the charity Unseen which identifies and works with victims of modern slavery. Like the other speakers, she surprised her audience with the extent of human trafficking and suffering in the UK.
A 160 million dollar business worldwide, the UK is in the top ten out of more than 100 countries where people are trafficked. “It could happen to anyone from anywhere.” She urged her audience to be watchful for patients who didn’t have any possessions, who had teeth which had suffered neglect or trauma or appeared frightened of the person or people who accompanied them to their appointment. Another recurring statement to watch out for is people who claim to “have only have arrived in the country yesterday,” so they don’t incriminate their captors.
She said the Modern Slavery Act had been passed earlier in the year and this had established the post of anti-Slavery Commissioner and made provision for victims, although getting help could be difficult. If you are worried about a child, she said, follow your local safeguarding procedures.
Robin Mills, a Specialty Doctor in Paediatric Dentistry at the Royal United Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Bath and Chair of the meeting gave an introductory presentation setting the scene for the safeguarding theme.
As a profession, dentists are operating with ”one hand tied behind their backs when it came to safeguarding” Dr Mills said.
He added that dentists should be more closely integrated with other healthcare colleagues; they should be a mandatory member of safeguarding children boards and on the NHS Spine database. There also needed to be improved deployment and distribution of specialists so that wherever you were in the UK, a child had access to a specialist paediatric dentist within a reasonable distance. The session was chaired by Dr Sarah Dewhurst, a Consultant in Paediatric Dentistry at Bristol Dental Hospital.
Posted by Gemma