A pioneering female genital mutilation clinic in Ealing will be forced to shut its doors on March 24 after losing its funding.
Supporting vulnerable women suffering from the mental and physical trauma of female genital mutilation, a source at the Acton African Well Woman Clinic said Ealing Council had ceased finance towards its running.
The specialist service, which staff say costs £40,000 annually to run, has helped more than 1,000 women over the last ten years and carried out procedures on more than 500 women with the most severe Type 3 FGM.
A source said: “We have been left with nothing.
“I think the reason why they are getting away with shutting it down is that women tend to be very silent about their FGM and don’t want to tell anyone.
“Women are frightened to talk to their GP, afraid to talk about their FGM and one of the reasons why FGM has lasted for many centuries is because women have thought that the practice was normal.”
With the clinic pushing for a collaboration of London North West CCG’s to commission the service, FGM campaigner, Janet Fyle MBE, said local authorities must stop letting victims down.
The professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives said: “FGM is something done to girls and it is child abuse.
“However you look at it, the decision is wrong and I believe it is an assault on vulnerable women who terribly need that service.
“These women have very little voice to challenge those who make decisions for them and they depend on people like us to speak up for them.”
Since its opening in 2007 by midwife Juliet Albert, the community-based clinic has welcomed women across the UK, providing a midwife, counsellor and health advocate away from the hospital setting.
Ms Fyle said: “One of the key reasons why families carry out FGM on girls is to control them, their sexual behaviour and marriageability.
“Why would you send those very women to hospitals where they might meet their neighbours or their families?
“We seem to be fixated in London about taking everybody to a hospital and I think it’s a let down for the women.”
Ms Fyle believes the self-referral clinic, which won a 2011 Guardian Public Service Award, gives FGM victims a voice.
She said: “It is a hidden practice and if you ever want the communities to end FGM and want to stop them giving counter messages to these young women, you really need to support them.
“Sometimes they have post-traumatic stress and then the memory comes to them.
“They make the connection and want to talk to somebody so that they don’t think they are making it up in their head.”
With research from a 2016 Trust for London study showing local authority funding to be vital in preventing the violent practice, the undeniable question of who owns responsibility over this service becomes crucial.
“Regardless of how many women you have in your local authority area you must have services for them, because there is no local authority area in England that is immune from FGM,” Ms Fyle added.
An Ealing Council spokesperson said: “The council has never commissioned the Acton African Well Woman clinic or any other NHS FGM clinic.
“The funding will continue to commission FGM raising awareness work within the community and schools, engaging with more women, girls and families to raise awareness of FGM.”
An NHS Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group spokesperson said: “NHS Ealing CCG did not commission or fund the Acton Well Woman Clinic, and was not involved in the decision to decommission the service.
“We have since received a request for new investment in this service which, given the financial constraints under which we operate, has had to be rejected.
“Taking into consideration the context – for example, the number of excellent alternative services that are available for both pregnant and non-pregnant women to access, coupled with the fact that the Acton Well Woman Clinic service saw only a small number of women last year, we had to make the decision not to invest in this service.”
The clinic has currently secured more than 21,000 signatures on their change.org petition but still require additional signatures to stop the service from closing at the end of the month.
To support and sign their online petition, visit their ‘Save the Acton FGM Community Clinic’ page on change.org.