Intended for healthcare professionals


Neglect of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder must end

BMJ 2021; 375 doi: (Published 06 December 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;375:n2969
  1. Neil Aiton, consultant neonatologist with specialist interest in perinatal substance misuse
  1. One Stop Clinic, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, UK
  1. neil.aiton{at}

A new UK government report details the challenge ahead

In September, the UK government published its long awaited report on health needs assessment for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).1 This document covers many of the challenges associated with FASD, a condition caused by exposure to alcohol before birth affecting brain development and resulting in neurodevelopmental, physical and sometimes mental health problems that persist throughout life. Many of the difficulties experienced by affected individuals and families are compounded by lack of access to diagnostic services and support, which adversely affects daily life and future outcomes.1

Why has it taken so long to get even to this stage—the dawning realisation that a substantial problem exists? Reasons include the complex relation we have with alcohol in the UK,2 lack of professional training,3 concern about maternal guilt, worries about erosion of maternal rights,4 arguments about levels of alcohol consumption associated with harm,5 the long delay between exposure and later neurodevelopmental difficulties, the complexities of …

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