Watchdog to act over firms who bombard new mothers with marketing material on NHS maternity wards

Minister says hospitals must 'get a grip' over invasion of privacy just hours after women give birth

Health watchdogs will be given powers to take action against hospitals that allow private companies to roam NHS maternity wards bombarding mothers with marketing material, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The health minister Dan Poulter, who is also a hospital doctor, promised to take action against the tactics of representatives from firms such as Bounty after a campaign by Mumsnet and a petition signed by nearly 25,000 people.

Bounty and other commercial firms pay the NHS to have access to hospitals within hours of mothers giving birth, even if they have been through emergency caesareans or other traumatic procedures.

Dr Poulter told The IoS that hospitals must "get a grip" in keeping reps away from mothers who have just given birth. He said that the Care Quality Commission would be able to take action against maternity wards and birthing units that did not "ensure the protection of women's privacy and dignity", including stopping private firms from approaching new mothers to ask them to sign up for a parenting club, buy professional photographs with their baby or hand over personal data which is then sold on to third-party companies. The CQC could issue warning notices to hospitals, issue fines or, in more severe cases, fail to register the service.

Bounty representatives have told women that signing up to the parenting club is the only way to get child benefit – which is inaccurate. Campaigners are concerned that HMRC pays Bounty under contract to distribute child benefit forms. Although the contract is for a relatively small amount, about £90,000 a year, it is a questionable use of taxpayers' money when the forms are readily available from post offices and can be ordered, free of charge, online. But HMRC admitted yesterday that it was cheaper to pay Bounty to distribute the forms than to send each one out individually to new parents, and declined to say whether it would renew its contract with the firm.

A petition signed by more than 21,000 people on calls on Dr Poulter to ban commercial parenting clubs in NHS wards. More than 66 MPs from all parties have signed a Commons motion about the campaign, and Dr Poulter wrote to all hospitals last month asking them to review their practices.

Dr Poulter said: "Many Bounty representatives engage with women appropriately during pregnancy and before birth. However, I wrote to hospitals about a month ago to highlight the outrageous behaviour of some Bounty reps in showing an unacceptable disregard for the privacy and dignity of women and families at what can be a very vulnerable time. We have recently been strengthening the role and powers of the Care Quality Commission to intervene where there is poor care or where patients' dignity is compromised during their care. So if hospitals do not take action to get a grip on the situation, then the CQC will be able to take action against the birthing unit."

The money that Bounty gives to the NHS – about £60m a year – is used by maternity units for essential equipment. But campaigners said the money could still be donated if there were more restraint shown by representatives. Justine Roberts, Mumsnet's chief executive, said: "You could, for instance, introduce something when you get into the ward, to say whether you are happy for a Bounty person to come and see you, or have a desk in a room with a representative there. But women are having to confront them and tell them to go away."

One mother who was receiving chemotherapy treatment was visited by a Bounty rep when her own father was prevented from seeing her because of the risk of infection.

An HMRC spokesman said: "HMRC wants to ensure new mothers have the information they need to register for child benefit. Bounty has a presence in most maternity wards, so it is convenient for new parents – and cheaper for HMRC – to make child benefit information available through Bounty rather than send out forms directly by post."

Clare Goodrham, General Manager of Bounty said: "We enforce a rigorous Code of Conduct, which respects mums’ privacy as well as use of any data collected. Bounty ladies, many of whom are mums themselves, never enter a ward without being cleared to do so by medical staff. We take any violation of the code of conduct seriously and regularly review it as part of our collaboration with the NHS.

"For over 50 years, we have worked in partnership with NHS hospitals and trusts to ensure that mums and hospital staff are happy with the service we provide, as we strive to achieve 100% satisfaction amongst mums. The Department of Health have also confirmed recently that they continue to value their relationship with Bounty.

We are proud to say that Bounty is welcomed by 99% of maternity units, and an independent survey by IPSOS-Mori shows that 93% of all midwives and heads of midwifery approve of the service provided by Bounty staff. We are also proud of the fact that  92% of mums say that they love Bounty packs, as it gives them free products and money off coupons - as well as access to essential health information. This is important to all mums, and particularly to those from lower socio-demographic groups who might not have access to this from other sources.

"Our work to deliver child benefit forms to mums is hugely successful and helps 82% of mums, of all backgrounds, to claim this important financial assistance."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent