LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - England published for the first time on Thursday the number of patients in English hospitals who had undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), figures hailed by a government minister as a "major milestone on the road to ending FGM ... in the United Kingdom."
More than 1,700 patients treated in English hospitals in September had been subjected to FGM, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), a Health Department body, said.
The patients included 467 newly identified as having undergone FGM and 1,279 already known to have undergone FGM in the past, it said, citing National Health Service figures.
It did not say how many of the patients were in hospital as a direct result of undergoing FGM - the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, which can cause haemorrhage, shock, complications in childbirth, fistula or death.
Jane Ellison, a minister in Britain's Department of Health, said understanding the scale of the problem was "essential to tackling it effectively".
"That is why, for the first time ever, hospitals are reporting information on FGM - a major milestone on the road to ending FGM in one generation here in the UK," Ellison said in a statement as the figures were released.
"This data will help us care for women who have had FGM, and prevent more girls from having to suffer this traumatic experience."
About 60,000 girls under 14 years old and born in England and Wales may be at risk of FGM or may already have been cut, the rights group Equality Now and City University London estimated in July.
An estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide are thought to have undergone FGM or be likely to undergo cutting, a tradition practised widely in African and some Muslim countries.
Many countries are now trying to stop the practice, a custom stretching back generations in some communities.
English hospitals now report monthly the number of female patients they have newly identified as having been subjected to FGM and the number treated who were previously recorded as having suffered the practice, the HSCIC said.
Patients are included in the figures whether they are being treated for an FGM-related problem or for another reason, it said. The data do not include hospitals in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, joined with England in the United Kingdom.
HSCIC Chairman Kingsley Manning said that having accurate data about the crime was an important step in helping prevent it being carried out in the future.
FGM has been a criminal offence in Britain since 1985, but new legislation in 2003 introduced a maximum prison sentence of 14 years and made it an offence for British citizens to carry out or procure FGM abroad, even in countries where it is legal.
"The information will support the Department of Health in their FGM prevention programme, and we hope to expand the dataset over time so that it provides a more complete picture across a wider variety of care settings," Manning said. (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, editing by Tim Pearce)
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