08 September 2020

S5M-21194 Alcohol Foetal Spectrum Disorders

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald): The debate is on motion S5M-21194, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on recognising the impact of alcohol foetal spectrum disorders. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the prevalence and significant impact of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in Scotland, as discussed at the meeting of the parliamentary Cross Party Group on Improving Scotland’s Health: 2021 and Beyond on 26 February 2020; notes the presentation by Dr Sarah Brown of the Foetal Alcohol Advisory and Support Team at NHS Ayrshire and Arran, which highlighted that FASD results from alcohol exposure in the womb and is preventable, yet is the most common neurodevelopmental condition in Scotland; further notes data from Glasgow Royal Infirmary research, which showed that one-in-seven babies born there were at high risk of FASD, which suggests a much higher prevalence in Scotland than previously thought; understands that FASD affects neurodevelopment, attainment, physical and mental health and that, without adequate support, it reduces life expectancy to around 34 years of age; believes that 94% of people living with FASD experience mental health problems, 79% experience unemployment, and over a third struggle with addictions; acknowledges the vital work that is being carried out by FASD Hub Scotland in providing a national telephone helpline and range of support for parents/carers and those supporting families affected by FASD, as highlighted by the presentation to the group by Aliy Brown, FASD Project Lead at FASD Hub Scotland, which is run by Adoption UK Scotland; supports the “No Alcohol, No Risk” message, which makes clear that any alcohol consumed during pregnancy can be damaging to the unborn child, and acknowledges its calls for implementation of the new SIGN 156 clinical guideline for Prenatal Alcohol Exposure, and welcomes the development of the National Preconception Framework as a key opportunity to reduce risks to parents and children from alcohol and other health-harming products in Cunninghame North and across Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank my colleague Kenneth Gibson for the opportunity to discuss this important subject.

Reading the motion, I was moved and saddened—in particular, by some of the statistics. For example, the average life expectancy of a child who is born with foetal alcohol syndrome disorders is a mere 34 years. In recent days, we have seen an outpouring of grief for a young actor who died at the age of 43, which is nearly 10 years older than the average life expectancy of a youngster who is affected by FASD.

Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders lead to quite variable outcomes, with some sufferers being affected more significantly than others. The presenting symptoms are not necessarily consistent among the cohort of people who are subject to the disorder—hence the difficulties that there often are in diagnosing the condition and in getting appropriate support in place.

What is shared, however, is that the syndrome is preventable. No parent—or very few parents—deliberately set out to harm their children. The syndrome is a side effect of an addiction to, or abuse of, one of our most widely available drugs of choice: alcohol. The danger with alcohol is that although it is an addictive drug it is not addictive for everybody, so people think that it is safe. For children in the womb, it is not safe. There is enough knowledge out there; people should know that they should not drink when they are pregnant.

However, not everyone is able to respond to the rational case for their stopping drinking. That is especially the case for an addict. It is our responsibility to support mothers during pregnancy and to support the children who suffer from foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. The championing of campaigns such as #NoAlcoholNoRisk is welcome.

I encountered issues to do with alcohol addiction when I was a nurse, 56 years ago, and one of our patients was an alcoholic who suffered extremely as a result of his addiction. My father was a general practitioner, and I used to provide some social support to addicts who were on his list. The issue is not far from a great many of us.

Children cannot look after themselves; they do not have the knowledge or the power to do anything about their situation. It is important that we identify the help that is required, and that people who suffer from FASD get everything that they require to lead as normal a life as possible.

I listened to Mr Whittle. I think that members can see the range of options that are available to support people, and to ensure that intervention comes early enough in a child’s life to ensure that they can get the maximum out of however long they have in this world. Early diagnosis, a loving and stable home and the absence of violence are rights that we all want for children in our society, and which we all have a duty to uphold. It is necessary to create a world in which people are supported. We will do all that we can to support future generations.

I very much welcome tonight’s debate. I hope that it brings the condition to the attention of a wider audience, and I hope that mothers and potential mothers are aware of the damage that alcohol can do to the precious child in the womb.


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