Privacy backlash over proposal to log all alcohol consumed during pregnancy

‘Women do not lose their right to medical confidentiality simply because they are pregnant’

Tim Wyatt
Wednesday 16 September 2020 12:22
Comments
Women are already advised not to drink any alcohol while expecting a child
Women are already advised not to drink any alcohol while expecting a child

Plans to record every drink a mother has during pregnancy on the baby’s file have been condemned as an invasion of privacy.  

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which creates guidance, policies and standards for the NHS in England and Wales, made the proposal in a consultation on how to better treat foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).  

If the guidelines, modelled on existing rules already in place in Scotland, are adopted, expectant mothers would be asked exactly how many drinks they have had and what type at antenatal appointments and by midwives.  

This information, which would include even having a single glass of alcohol before a woman realised she was pregnant, would then be permanently attached to the child’s own medical records.

NICE said this was necessary because identifying children who might be at risk of FASD relied on accurate information on how much alcohol their mother had consumed during pregnancy.  

This was particularly relevant for healthcare professionals treating children who are adopted or taken in to care and where it may not be possible to gather information from the biological mother later.  

But a range of pregnancy charities and even the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said the proposals were concerning.  

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said there was “no compelling research” which showed unborn children were harmed by low levels of drinking and argued the plans were “unjustified and disproportionate”.

“Women do not lose their right to medical confidentiality simply because they are pregnant,” said Clair Murphy, a spokesperson for BPAS.  

“Most women report drinking very little alcohol in pregnancy if any at all, even if they may have drunk before a positive pregnancy test."

Another charity, Birthrights, said they also had “serious concerns”. “We have serious concerns about Nice’s failure to recognise the need for informed consent to screening and transfer of information to the child’s health record.  

“It is unacceptable to propose such measures without any assessment of the impact on women and pregnant people, and their relationships with healthcare providers.”

In a statement, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it shared some of the worries raised by the charities, “including the definition of prenatal alcohol exposure and the proposal to transfer information from a woman’s health record to that of her child, and we will be responding to the consultation in due course”.

Data protection lawyers have even warned sharing details from the mother’s records to the child’s file after birth could be illegal and incompatible with the GDPR.

Matthew Holman, a data privacy lawyer, told The Times: “Any attempt to force disclosure against the mother’s wishes is likely to be unlawful except perhaps in the most limited cases where there is a clear and present risk to the unborn child”.

Are you consuming dangerous quantities of alcohol?

However, a NICE briefing paper on the consultation argues there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and even small amounts of drinking could damage the child’s health into adulthood.  

Surveys show 97 per cent of midwives advise women at the first appointment not to drink any alcohol while pregnant, but a 2010 poll suggested 41 per cent of mothers did drink while expecting a child.  

A spokesperson for NICE said the proposed guidelines were based on the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations on alcohol use and rules already in place in Scotland and elsewhere around the world.

“The feedback we receive from external organisations and members of the public during this consultation period will help us better understand what works, and what doesn’t, for practice in England.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in