Although Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a specific diagnosis, there are many features that need to be present, as well as a history of pre-natal alcohol intake. For these reasons the diagnosis of FASD is difficult and is frequently either misdiagnosed or unconfirmed. There is no national register of FASD, therefore the number of cases of FASD, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), and Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND) in Ireland are unknown. This reflects the situation in many countries in Europe.
A study partly funded by the HSE is underway in the Coombe Women's Hospital in Dublin. The study initially screened women for alcohol intake in pregnancy with a view to counselling them accordingly. The study examined the records of 61,241 women who booked for ante-natal care and delivered between 2000 and 2007. The study found that 81% of women reported alcohol consumption during the peri-conceptual period; of these 71% reported low alcohol intake (0-5 units per week), 9.9% moderate intake (6-20 units per week) and 0.2% high intake (over 20 units per week). There was one case of FASD in each of these three categories of peri-conceptual drinkers. As well as this retrospective case note study a prospective study is currently underway to examine the incidence of foetal alcohol effects on a longitudinal basis. I have requested the HSE to provide me with an update on this study and I will forward this information to the Deputy as soon as possible.
As the Deputy knows the Report of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group recommended that labels of alcohol products sold in Ireland should include health warnings in relation to consuming alcohol in pregnancy. In relation to Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) the Report recommended to:
- Implement policies and clinical protocols in all healthcare settings to prevent, assess and respond to issues arising in relation to pregnant women affected by alcohol use;
- Strengthen FASD surveillance in maternity hospitals through the Eurocat Reporting system and promote greater awareness among healthcare professionals of FASD so as to improve the diagnosis and management of FASD.
Real and tangible proposals are currently being finalised on foot of the recommendations in the National Substance Misuse Strategy report. These proposals cover all of the areas mentioned in the report, including the labelling of alcohol products and prevention and intervention activities on alcohol. The Cabinet Committee on Social Policy has considered these proposals and I intend to bring forward specific proposals for consideration by Government as soon as possible.