National Drug Strategy
National Drug Strategy

Intergovernmental committee on Drugs working party on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Australia: An Update

June 2012

7.1 Health professionals survey, 2002

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In 2002, Payne et al. surveyed 1,143 health professionals throughout Western Australia (WA) via a postal questionnaire, to determine their awareness about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and the effects of alcohol use in pregnancy (Payne et al. 2005). The response rate to the survey was 79 percent. Survey participants included Aboriginal health workers, allied health professionals, community nurses, general practitioners and obstetricians.

Just over half of respondents identified at least one of the essential features of FAS; however, only 12 percent identified all four essential diagnostic features. This suggests that many health professionals would not recognise even the most severe end of the FASD spectrum. Most (82%) health professionals believed that making a diagnosis of FAS might improve treatment plans for the affected child and 85% agreed FAS was preventable. Most respondents reported never having diagnosed FAS, although half (51%) had seen a child diagnosed with FAS by someone else. About one-third (34%) had suspected but did not diagnose FAS and 4% were, on occasion, convinced of the diagnosis of FAS but did not record it. This may be explained in part by the fact that half (53%) believed that making a diagnosis might stigmatise the child or their family (Payne et al. 2005).

Of the 659 health professionals in the survey who cared for pregnant women, most (87%) advised pregnant women that they should consider not drinking at all. However, less than one-third gave advice consistent with the 2001 NHMRC Australian alcohol guideline on alcohol consumption in pregnancy (NHMRC 2001) and advised women not to become intoxicated (29%) or to have fewer than seven drinks during a week (29%). Overall, only 13% provided advice that incorporated all aspects of the 2001 NHMRC Australian alcohol guideline. Sixty-seven percent of health professionals surveyed agreed that it was easy to ask pregnant clients how much and how often they drank alcohol but 10% agreed with the statement that discussing alcohol use during pregnancy would frighten or anger pregnant women (Payne et al. 2005).

Less than half the health professionals caring for pregnant women (45%) said they routinely asked pregnant women about alcohol use in pregnancy. About one-third asked “sometimes”, one-third only asked if there were certain risk factors and 12% did not ask about alcohol use. Only 25% routinely provided information on the consequences of alcohol use in pregnancy and 21% did not provide such information. More than 96% agreed that education/information about the effect alcohol may have on the fetus should be readily available to women of childbearing age (Payne et al. 2005).

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