Mother’s alcohol use could soon be shown on child’s medical record, prompting privacy fears

A pregnant woman’s alcohol consumption could soon be mentioned on their child’s medical record – prompting significant privacy concerns.

The record would show if a mother even had a single glass of alcohol during their first week of pregnancy, a time when they may not have realised they were expecting a child.

These measures have already been adopted in Scotland – but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is now exploring whether England and Wales should follow suit.

It is hoped that the policy would help identify children at risk of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which can cause physical and behavioural problems.

But the British Pregnancy Advisory Service says the move would violate the EU’s general data protection regulations – and claims there has been “no compelling research showing harm at lower levels” of alcohol consumption.

Clare Murphy, the charity’s spokeswoman, said: “Women do not lose their right to medical confidentiality simply because they are pregnant.

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

BPAS pointed to new research that shows 60% of mothers feel data on alcohol consumption should not be shared without consent – and it warned that the proposal risks impacting the relationships women have with healthcare professionals.

The organisation also tweeted: “The very small numbers of women in incredibly complex situations who struggle with alcohol problems during pregnancy will not be helped by this broad-brush approach.

“We need better support for vulnerable women during pregnancy. This will not achieve that.”

Birthrights, a charity that promotes human rights in medical care, warned: “It is unacceptable to propose such measures without any assessment of the impact on women and pregnant people.”

Aston University’s Pam Lowe said the General Medical Council guidance on confidentiality suggests sharing information without informed consent might be justified if not doing so placed others at risk of death or serious harm.

However, the senior lecture in sociology added: “Although foetal alcohol spectrum disorder can have serious neurodevelopmental effects, the shared information makes no difference to the level of harm.”

The NICE consultation is expected to be published on 26 January.

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