Thousands of pregnant women have been quizzed about their drinking habits, amid concerns about the effects of alcohol on their health and their babies, figures reveal.
The official statistics show that in 2012-13, health staff carried out 3,591 “alcohol brief interventions” (ABIs) with ante-natal patients.
These sessions involve talking to women in a non-confrontational way to help them think about and change their drinking habits to reduce their consumption and also their risk of harm.
But the figures, revealed by the Scottish Conservatives, showed that the rate of these interventions varied wildly across Scotland.
Last year, the majority were carried out in Ayrshire and Arran, while other health boards carried out very few interventions among pregnant women.
In Ayrshire and Arran, 2,283 ABIs took place in antenatal settings. In contrast, only four took place in NHS Lanarkshire, and six each in Forth Valley and Grampian. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Scotland’s biggest health board, carried out just 23 ABIs last year. Lothian, the second biggest board, carried out 698 interventions.
The report, by Information Services Division Scotland, said differences in the delivery of ABIs between boards were likely to reflect “variation in practice and local priorities” rather than being a reflection of the number of harmful drinkers in that area.
In total, the NHS conducted 94,916 ABIs across all patient groups in 2012-13, most of which were in primary care settings such as GP surgeries.
The figures come after researchers in Glasgow last week warned of worrying levels of deaths among women in their thirties and forties in Scotland from alcohol-related illnesses.
While mortality rates linked to conditions such as liver disease have started to decline in other groups, the researchers found women born in the 1970s were seeing deaths increase.
Other recent research has also suggested women often ignore warnings about drinking when pregnant if they are already regular alcohol users, despite official medical advice to avoid it.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman and deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said the latest figures were concerning. “It’s made pretty clear to families embarking on pregnancy that drinking alcohol could be damaging to the baby,” he said. “It’s therefore worrying that so many of these interventions have taken place in an antenatal setting.
“It’s a staggering figure that really illustrates the depth of Scotland’s problems with alcohol.
“I don’t for one minute think pregnant women in Ayrshire and Arran are more likely to drink hazardously than anywhere else, so perhaps health bosses need to look at why next to none of these interventions take place elsewhere.”
Dr Maggie Watts, consultant in public health medicine at NHS Ayrshire and Arran, said all pregnant women were asked about their alcohol consumption towards the start of their pregnancy. She added: “The midwife will continue to inquire about alcohol use throughout the antenatal period.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the interventions were “helping to make pregnant women informed of the dangers alcohol can have on their baby”.