Post-natal sales pitch

Bounty is paid by the government to visit

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Critics have slammed the presence of sales reps on post-natal wards – and called for women to be protected from commercial firms.

Bounty, which holds contracts with hospital trusts across the country, is accused of using hard-selling tactics on exhausted mothers within hours of them giving birth.

The firm, which offers baby portraits and hands out packs containing vouchers, leaflets and free product samples, uses the arrangement to harvest their personal details and sell them on to other companies.

But some say its presence is inappropriate, with reps accused of approaching women without permission, including when babies are fighting for their lives.

Almost 10,000 people have so far signed a parliamentary petition calling on the government to review the practice of allowing the reps onto wards.

‘Emotional mess’

One Manchester mother, Liz, told Big Issue North: “I had a cord prolapse, emergency caesarean section and I ended up in a four-bay room while my son was fighting for his life in neonatal intensive care – he later died at four days old. I was in a total emotional mess and had some ridiculous woman come to my bed to take photos of my baby when my baby wasn’t even with me.

“They shouldn’t be there. I’m strongly against them even being on wards.”

Bounty is paid an undisclosed sum by the government to include child benefit forms within its packs – forms freely available to download online. Recent figures are hard to come by since the relationship is now run via a sub-contract but in 2012-13, HMRC paid the firm almost £90,000.

Bounty then pays individual hospital trusts for the right to visit wards. Details about these contracts are confidential but Bounty says it contributes £2.3 million to hospitals each year. The firm has sent reps into hospitals since the 1960s and has been subject to criticism and campaigns before.

Profits from vulnerable

Glasgow GP Margaret McCartney believes the contracts should be stopped.

She said: “The NHS should be a commerce-free environment. If a woman has just given birth and is trying to breastfeed, the last thing she needs is to have to fend off sales reps. These firms are profiting from women being in a vulnerable position.

“The ward should be about support 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?”

Even when babies are healthy, women can feel coerced into signing up with the uniformed reps, who they may not realise work for a commercial company.

Jo, who had her baby at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, remains furious about the experience three years on – but never got around to making a formal complaint.

She said: “It was an utterly humiliating experience when I was at my most vulnerable. I was an absolute mess – heavily anaemic and totally out of it from blood loss, delirious from sleep deprivation, having been awake through three nights of labour, unable to sit upright due to stiches. I was as yet unshowered since the birth as I couldn’t walk… with both boobs out, sobbing and desperately trying and failing to breastfeed.

“Then in she walks, observes me for a second and says – not that she’s sorry and she’ll come back – but that she’ll just give me a minute to get myself together, and turned to face the curtain while she waited. Being the unassertive Brit that I am I just nodded and somehow smiled and covered myself up and sat through an agonising photo shoot.”

Bounty says its services are offered on the basis of choice and that reps follow a strict code of conduct. The company says its most common complaint is from parents who have missed seeing a Bounty rep and not received their Bounty pack or had photos taken.

A spokesperson said: “We are very sorry if anyone has had an experience with us that is not up to our high standards. Bounty fully supports and acknowledges the need to respect the privacy and dignity of families on the maternity ward. That’s why we are committed to ensuring every mum we meet in hospital experiences an excellent bedside service from our staff.

‘Basis of choice’

“Research shows that the vast majority of new mothers enjoy, expect and welcome our services. Bounty has been meeting mums in hospitals for 60 years, providing essential support and information to generations of new parents. We work closely with the NHS to ensure our services are offered on the basis of choice and that they comply with the standards required by our hospital partners.”

A spokeswoman for Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust – which runs St Mary’s Hospital – was unable to give the value of its contract with Bounty.

She said: “Bounty provides information, advice and support to mothers who deliver at both Saint Mary’s and Wythenshawe hospitals… Privacy and dignity are expected to be respected and maintained at all times.

Guidance in place

“All Bounty staff must introduce themselves each day at maternity reception and ask the ward staff to confirm which mums they can or cannot visit. In the event there are any complaints relating to the Bounty service, this will be raised directly with the company with an apology and resolution requested from them.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said guidance and processes were already in place to help NHS providers manage the access of sales reps to maternity and neonatal
wards.

He added: “Protecting the privacy and dignity of new mothers should be the priority of anyone who visits a maternity or neonatal ward. We are clear that NHS trusts should ensure their practices and rules for sales representatives guarantee a safe and comfortable environment for mothers and their families.”

Photo: Getty

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