Margaret McCartney on the petition to get Bounty reps out of NHS maternity wards

margaret_mccartneyIt’s not just me who is annoyed about the presence of Bounty reps on NHS wards, who pay the NHS to be allowed access to give samples of products to new mothers—and who earn money from selling on parents names and addresses.

I wrote in the BMJ that, “The lack of knowledge about what signing over your details means is troubling in a hospital environment, which should take consent and confidentiality seriously. The hours after birth are hardly an optimal time to obtain formal consent. And is the presence of a non-essential Bounty worker on the ward desirable?” Mumsnet ran a web based survey of 1000 women, asking them what they thought. Just over half felt their privacy was invaded, and 60% didn’t realise that their details would be sold on. 82% didn’t think that Bounty should have access to NHS wards at all.

The National Childbirth Trust have written a petition, which is now being supported by Mumsnet, to ask for this arrangement to stop. Some of the comments on the petition—which is sitting, as I write at over 3000 signatures, almost doubling from yesterday—are very concerning, such as: “it was implied that that it was compulsory for me to provide my personal details, leading me to believe that this was for hospital records/child benefit purposes. At no point was I told that my details were being taken by Bounty to be sold on for third party marketing, nor was I asked for permission to share my details in this way. Like many other new mums I was grossly misled and experienced a serious invasion of privacy whilst at my most vulnerable. I want to see an immediate end to this dishonest, intrusive, unethical practice.”

Essentially, women are being targeted by salespeople just after birth, at a time when the ward should be about supporting and nurture—not sales pitches. No other hospital ward is paid to give access to commercial representatives—yet we allow it when it comes to childbirth. What does that say about the way that women are regarded as advertising fodder in the NHS? Bounty have being going on for decades. I’d like them to have their contracts withdrawn, and for this practice to stop right now.