Diageo funds midwives campaign

Drinks giant Diageo is to pay for 10,000 midwives to be trained in highlighting to pregnant women the dangers of drinking alcohol, it was announced today.

The move is an example of the Government's bid to attract the private sector into public health and the Department of Health hopes the initiative will help more than a million expectant mothers over three years.

Public Health minister Anne Milton said: "Midwives are one of the most trusted sources of information and advice for pregnant women.

"This pledge is a great example of how business can work with NHS staff to provide women with valuable information.

"This will help over a million women over the next three years to make an informed decision about drinking during their pregnancy.

"It will potentially improve their health and also give their baby the best start in life."

Government guidance is for pregnant women to avoid drinking alcohol, but if they do, to drink only one to two units, once or twice a week.

Diageo is one of the biggest drinks businesses and its brands include Guinness, Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff.

The training programme will be run by the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS).

It is part of the Government's "Responsibility Deal" which sees big business, charities and the retail sector working together to help people live healthier lives.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "More women are choosing to avoid alcohol when they are pregnant. However, some pregnant women continue to drink, albeit a reduced amount.

"Alcohol may pose a risk to unborn babies so it is crucial that the choice expectant mothers make is an informed one."

She said figures from the Infant Feeding Survey 2005 for the UK showed that 34% of mothers gave up drinking when they were pregnant, 61% said they drank less during their pregnancy, and 4% reported no change to their drinking patterns.

Simon Litherland, managing director, Diageo Great Britain, said: "This pledge is something Diageo feels passionately about. Educating midwives and mothers about the issues that can arise when drinking alcohol when pregnant or trying to conceive is hugely important as it will potentially save many babies from being born with foetal alcohol syndrome.

"We are pleased to be able to support NOFAS UK so they can reach such a large number of women across the UK."

The deal involves a six figure investment that will be distributed across the three years of the project.

A cautionary note was sounded by a spokeswoman for the British Medical Association, the doctors' professional association.

She said: "While we support campaigns to advise pregnant women about the dangers of drinking alcohol, we do have concerns about the food industry and the drinks industry funding health campaigns, because there could be a conflict of interest in some cases.

"If the drinks industry does fund a health campaign, it is essential that independent clinical advice is sought.

"At our annual conference coming up at the end of June, there is a motion from doctors which has specific concerns about private businesses being involved in health campaigns."