Objective: To measure the knowledge, attitudes and practices of health professionals regarding fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and alcohol use during pregnancy.

Method: A postal survey of a representative random sample of health professionals was conducted in Western Australia (WA) in 2002/03. 1,143 (79%) of 1,443 eligible health professionals completed the survey (87 Aboriginal Health Workers, 286 allied health professionals, 537 community nurses, 170 general practitioners and 63 obstetricians).

Results: Of 1,143 health professionals, 12% identified all four essential diagnostic features of FAS. Most (95%) had never diagnosed FAS. Although 82% believed that making a diagnosis of FAS might improve treatment plans and 85% agreed FAS was preventable, 53% said the diagnosis might be stigmatising. Only 2% felt very prepared to deal with FAS and most wanted information for themselves and their clients. Of the 659 health professionals caring for pregnant women, only 45% routinely ask about alcohol use in pregnancy, only 25% routinely provide information on the consequences of alcohol use in pregnancy and only 13% provide advice consistent with NHMRC guidelines on alcohol consumption in pregnancy.

Conclusion: Health professionals have identified the need for educational materials for themselves and their clients.

Implications: FAS is likely to be under-ascertained in Australia due to a lack of knowledge of FAS by health professionals. Until this lack of knowledge is addressed, opportunities for diagnosis and prevention of FAS will be limited.