We asked Bounty for a response and have published it directly below the article. It includes contact details for anyone who has had a difficult experience and for those wanted to take themselves off the Bounty database.
Two weeks to go… or rather, not two weeks to go. I’m 38 weeks pregnant today, and his Highness could plausibly arrive this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or the week after that.
Between the 37-week mark and the 42-week “we’ll try anything” cut-off, a pregnant women is ready to roll, set to go, fully cooked. So what are women like me really thinking about now? The small issue of pushing a baby out between our legs, yes. But also what happens soon after, and who we want to be with us.
This brings me to Bounty, an organisation in the news frequently last summer. A profit-making company that provides “support to families in the transition to parenthood”, their representatives are present on many post-natal wards in the UK. Here, they sell women photographs of their babies hours after they’ve had them, get paid by HMRC to pass on Child Benefit forms (some Bounty reps have told mothers it was the only way to get them) and sign away patients’ details to parent-friendly businesses. Yep, you read that right.
This isn’t the brave new world of the stripped-down NHS either. Bounty has been around in hospitals for over 50 years, although what they do there has changed significantly.
These days, women encounter Bounty very early on in their pregnancies. At my 10-week check – at which the risk of miscarriage is still significant – I was presented with my free Bounty folder. This is a heavyweight plastic bag full of free samples and advertising. No, I’m not averse to a freebie but this didn’t seem the right environment so, after a cursory look through, I chucked the lot in the bin. (One leaflet also offered dietary advice that contradicted NHS guidelines – yes, I can eat stilton, you demons – which I emailed them about and, to their credit, they responded.)
A note on the back of the Bounty bag was more galling, however. “Mum to be tip: baby brain? Keep your maternity notes in here so you know how to find them,” it gushed. There, there, dear, went Bounty, patting our silly little heads. We’d much rather be patronised than supported.
Then I started hearing about other women’s experiences of Bounty. One friend was pressured to sign up by her midwife, before miscarrying, then kept getting information from the company on what would have been her due date. Another had a very poorly baby and kept getting harrassed in intensive care. Another thought the Bounty rep was one of many health professionals at first, before handing over her email to send her away – only to get bombarded with spam emails ever since, selling life insurance, kids’ ISAs and toddlers’ ballet lessons.
The first issue to tackle here is transparency. Why don’t these reps say who they are straightaway? I’m told that, in the hours after giving birth, medical staff pop in constantly; a new mother isn’t necessarily going to be ready to deal with uninvited guests. Also, why are these reps allowed into wards when only a few other family members are, especially given the risk of infection? Are these reps monitored and checked properly? Are they made aware of women’s different medical circumstances? A woman could have had an easy labour or a very traumatic one. Neither kind, from the anecdotes I’ve heard, is spared the sales treatment.
So what do Bounty bring the NHS? In a word: money. Amy Willis’ June 2013 investigation for The Telegraph revealed that 150 NHS hospitals were signed up to cash-for-access contracts. Some hospitals were paid according to the number of babies born, while others got bonus commissions when Bounty managed to take their bloody photographs. Furthermore, as of last summer, HMRC paid Bounty £90,000 a year to distribute child benefit forms – forms that can be picked up in post offices for free or downloaded online.
No change has been reported about this figure yet. It isn’t exactly the best use of taxpayers’ money, whichever way you slice it.
But things are hopefully changing. Last summer, a Change.org petition against Bounty attracted over 25,000 signatures. As a result, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, Dan Poulter – a medical doctor himself – wrote to the Chief Executives of NHS Trusts expressing his concerns, albeit it, of course, in a very privatisation-friendly way.
“Whilst it is beneficial to have accessible information available to women when they are responsive to messaging”, he wrote – a touch of the “baby brain” schtick there, so thanks for that, Dan – “I am sure you will agree that it is unacceptable for parenting support organisations including Bounty to use this as an opportunity to collect private data and share it without the expressed informed consent of the parents.” Which is all well and good.
This letter was written last June. By July, Poole and Highland NHS Trusts had severed their Bountry contracts. By August, Poulter was saying that the Care Quality Commission would be enabled to take action against maternity wards that “did not ensure the protection of women’s dignity and privacy”. The worry I have now, however, is that this story loses traction. That overworked staff on maternity units forget the complaints that have been made. That the existence of Bounty reps on the wards for so many years makes the issues blend into the background – rather than the practices of individual reps being questioned.
After all, these are some of my friends’ experiences of Bounty, on post-natal wards, since last August. There’s the friend who was having difficulty breastfeeding when the rep appeared – a woman who didn’t take a strongly-worded hint to leave well alone. There’s the friend who was told by an anonymous woman that she needed her details, without being told how these details were going to be used – expressly against the advice recommended by Dan Poulter. A few others had better, hands-off treatment, and I’m hoping for the same – but I have the advantage of being prepared for it, which many women don’t.
Whatever happens in the next four weeks, I’m taking the advice of my friend Ellie. After the birth, whatever happens, I’ll have my best “fuck-off face” ready.
Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers
Response from Clare Goodrham, Bounty General Manager said: “As a proud partner of the NHS for over 50 years, which sees over 2,000 new mums every day, we have worked to provide free products and important health information to generations of new mothers. We work closely with hospitals to ensure that mums and hospital staff are happy with the service we provide, and 92% of mums say that they love our packs as it gives them free products and money off coupons.
We are proud to give mums such offers and we take a responsible approach to sharing information with our partners. We audit and approve all the communications that our members receive and enforce a strict policy that data is only shared with our partners when a member has given us permission. We understand that some members might change their minds about this, so anyone who does not wish for their data to be shared can be removed from our database within 24 hours and no longer receive correspondence from Bounty or our partners if they wish.
Whilst expecting a baby should be such a joyful event, we know from our long term partnership with Tommy’s the baby charity that for one in four women things can go wrong and they lose a baby in pregnancy or birth. Bounty takes its responsibility seriously and has systems in place so that our members can privately update their membership details on our website or unsubscribe using a link at the bottom of our home page www.bounty.com and any of our emails. Additionally, Bounty signposts to the Baby Mailing Preference Service on our website and through our customer services team as the service will ensure that any communications from other sources they may have signed up to are also stopped.
At Bounty, we want 100 % satisfaction with our service and regularly assess all aspects of our practices to ensure that mums continue to get the best experience possible. Our Independent Advisory Board is also in place to provide us with recommendations for how we can continually improve our service and the experience for mums across the country. If anyone has any specific complaints or suggestions for improvement, then please let us know straight away at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
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