A COMMUNITY midwife who supports expectant mothers affected by Female Genital Mutilation has been selected to receive one of the most coveted awards in the nursing industry.
Hilary Alba is among 20 community nurses in Scotland selected to be part of the first group of Queen’s Nurses in almost 50 years – a marker of excellence in the industry.
The programme was established by Queen Victoria in 1889 in honour of her Golden Jubilee.
Hilary sees around 12 women a month in Glasgow who have been affected by FGM and says she is still shocked by the barbarity of the cases she sees.
She also supports expectant mothers who have experienced trafficking and other abuses.
The issue of FGM was recently featured in the BBC drama Call the Midwife, which is set in the 1950s and early 60s.
Although knowledge of female circumcision is now widespread in the medical profession, Hilary says the worst cases are no less shocking for the midwives and doctors involved.
FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15, most commonly before puberty starts.
It is illegal in the UK and carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years and it is also illegal for mothers to take their daughters back to their country of origin for the procedure. However paid ‘cutters’ will travel to the UK to perform the procedure.
Police Scotland said they are “not aware” of any prosecutions for FGM in Scotland.
Hilary, 45, said: “I see about three or four women a week. There are grades of it and some of the more serious cases are pretty horrific.
“It’s one of the questions we will ask, depending on what country the woman has come from – if she’s been cut.
“You have to talk to her about the legal issues, because obviously it’s illegal in the UK to practice FGM.
“We don’t know what’s happening in Scotland but cutters have travelled to London. They are paid to do it.
“It’s very difficult to eradicate because it’s so embedded in the culture.”
It is believed around 300 girls are born in Scotland every year to a woman originally from an FGM-practising country, thus potentially putting them at risk.
The procedure is most common in areas of eastern, western and north-eastern Africa, countries such as Mali, Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia, and in some areas of Asia and the Middle East.
Like the Somalian woman featured in Call the Midwife, Hilary says the majority of women do not want their own daughters to go through the same ordeal.
She said: “I have to have that conversation and it’s not an easy conversation to have.
“Most of the women are horrified and don’t want their daughters to go through it.
“They are quite forthcoming with me, I think because they know that’s my role so they know I have knowledge in that area.
“Some of the women don’t want to be looked at. They are quite happy to come in for labour and take their chances.
“Most of the woman are lucky in that we have so many female medical staff, they won’t have to see a male doctor.”
Hilary, who is a mum-of-three, is often the first point of contact for new asylum seekers who have discovered they are pregnant soon after arriving in Glasgow.
She uses Language Line to communicate with her patients, a telephone service used by the NHS which connects to an interpreter.
She said: “Most of these woman speak very little or no English.
“It’s not always practical to have an interpreter because of the time constraints and I never know when I might have to do a house call.
“Albanian and Vietnamese interpreters are really hard to come by.
“A lot of my girls are either of those. They are particularly vulnerable. They are very wary of authority. You don’t know what has happened to them.
“You can see them visibly relax when they realise we are nothing to do with the Home Office.”
Hilary is part of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s SNIPs team (Special Needs in Pregnancy) which works with some of the city’s most vulnerable pregnant women including young teenagers and the homeless.
On receiving the Queen’s Award, she said: “I am absolutely thrilled to be chosen as a Queen’s Nurse.
“The title hasn’t been awarded in almost 50 years but is always associated with excellence in the nursing and midwifery professions and will give our service added kudos.”