The dangers of drinking during pregnancy need to be taken more seriously

When it comes to the subject of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) I must admit I’m not objective. It’s because I’ve seen the awful toll drinking alcohol has on an unborn baby.

FASD is a condition caused by ­exposure to alcohol before birth. It ­affects brain development and leads to developmental, physical and sometimes mental health problems that persist throughout life.

The Government has dragged its feet for years on attending to the health needs of FASD babies and its long-awaited report was only recently published. But does it go far enough?

Why has it taken so long to get to this stage – the realisation that a substantial problem exists?

Yes, there are several controversial factors. We don’t want to make pregnant mums feel guilty for having a glass of wine. Some people worry about the erosion of maternal rights. Then there are arguments about the levels of drinking alcohol in pregnancy that cause harm.

Also, the long delay between exposure to alcohol in the womb and emergence of developmental difficulties later makes a diagnosis difficult. Lack of access to diagnostic services and treatment compound many of the difficulties faced by sufferers and their families, affecting daily life and also their future.

FASD isn’t rare, it’s just rarely diagnosed. At one in 25-30 children it’s probably more common than autism and it’s possible that many children with FASD also have autism and attention deficit disorder at the same time.

Scotland is in much better shape than England, with quality standards for FASD reflecting evidence-based guidelines, reports a BMJ editorial.

The UK’s NICE plans to follow Scotland’s example by supporting advice and information during pregnancy, assessment and diagnosis in children with neuro-developmental problems, and help and support for patients.

The Government report points to the dismal fact that only 22% of clinical groups actually commission services for FASD diagnosis in children, and 8.4% for adults.

There’s also a postcode lottery as effective help and support are available in only a few areas of the country. These areas, however, should be leading the way for a national rollout.

A bright spot in the report emphasises the needs of individuals over their entire lives and looks for closer collaboration between departments of health, social care, education and justice.

And how about an umbrella body for FASD for the UK that would encourage partnerships between medical professions and professional organisations to ensure the voices of those affected are heard?

We must do better for the one in 25-30 children with this potentially preventable condition.