Hospital episode statistics include finished admission episodes where there was either a primary or secondary diagnosis of a foetus or newborn affected by maternal use of alcohol or foetal alcohol syndrome. I have supplied some detail on that in parliamentary answers this week. These records cover both patients treated in NHS hospitals in England and by independent providers whose services are commissioned by the NHS.
The Minister has confirmed that thousands of babies are born every year damaged by alcohol, and yet there is still no statutory requirement for all alcoholic drinks containers to display specific health warnings about the dangers of drinking in pregnancy. When will the Government introduce the necessary legislation?
Before I respond to the substantive point, it is worth saying that there is a spectrum of disorders and some of the diagnoses on certain parts of the spectrum are quite difficult. We have statistics on foetal alcohol syndrome and there is no evidence that that is increasing, although we seem to be diagnosing more in younger children. Also, the women to whom this tends to happen are extremely difficult to reach through public education campaigns as many are subject to additional, complex factors.
On bottling, through the responsibility deal, there was a commitment to get 80% of alcoholic drinks on the market labelled. That is being independently audited and is something we champion, not just with messages about drinking in pregnancy, but through guidance from the chief medical officer on drinking generally.
One of the slight challenges in this area is that quite a lot of pregnancies are unplanned and people have sometimes been drinking alcohol before they know they are pregnant. However, a lot of advice is available. Along with health visitors and midwives—we are putting more resource into those areas—Public Health England’s “start for life” campaign provides advice to pregnant women. There are National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines, including for those women to whom I referred earlier with complex social factors. A lot of information is available, and the chief medical officers are reviewing the guidance to people generally. The simple message to women who are hoping to conceive or who are pregnant is that it is best to avoid alcohol.