A few women I have worked with have mentioned their surprise at Bounty representatives being on the postnatal wards immediately after them giving birth, so I decided to ask in my local online parent and baby group to see if anyone had any particular feelings one way or another about Bounty. It turns out they do.
Several women told of their upset that their partners had had to go home shortly after the birth because of visiting hours, but that a sales rep was allowed on the ward. Many talked about being woken up by a rep asking for their address or asking if they want photos taken of their baby. A recurring theme is that women were told they needed to sign up with Bounty to get their Child Benefit form – an out and out lie, as it turns out.
“I had literally just given birth and was still in the birthing room when they came in during a private moment with me my son and husband. I asked them to leave and they said I needed a pack or I couldn’t get my child benefit”
Surely allowing any marketing or sales reps access to women on postnatal wards is unethical and intrusive? We should be protecting women, babies and families at this time. Even after a straightforward delivery it’s no picnic dealing with the hormonal changes that take place in the hours and days after giving birth. If women have experienced trauma during the birth of their child then they are especially in need of kindness, sensitivity and protection from unwanted intrusion. Of course, women can decline to give their details, or to have photos taken, and many do, but some reported receiving a less than kind response and feeling upset and vulnerable when their ‘no’ should have been immediately respected.
“I very politely declined. She was outraged. No one had ever said no before apparently. I couldn't get my child benefit form without it apparently. And when I still politely declined she spoke to one of the staff about me who then came and questioned why I had declined and tried to talk me round.”
Many of the women who shared their experiences talked about feeling like the Bounty reps had invaded their privacy. One woman had a rep open the curtains around her bed when she was having her stitches checked. Another was in tears talking to her husband about difficulties with feeding their baby and said that the rep waited for a break in the conversation to interject.
“I had an unexpected stay in hospital after an emergency C-section. By day 5 I still hadn't slept and was struggling with lots of things. The midwives put a sign on my door saying that visitors had to seek permission to enter, which everyone including paediatricians and consultants all did. Except the bounty woman - I had just fallen asleep too. I was very angry and upset.”
That some NHS trusts allow this total disregard for the privacy and emotional wellbeing of women at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives is hard to stomach. “Absolutely hate that they are allowed near the wards. You are vulnerable and just want to be with people close to you and your new baby. I was pre-warned but still felt utterly intimidated and made to feel as if I was being rude for not wanting to give my details to a stranger for marketing purposes.”
It’s also true that many women find the Bounty pack free samples useful, and have happily given their contact details and bought photos from them. “My lady was really lovely and considerate and I was really glad to have the photos.” Another woman said, “We bought some of the pictures, being in a blissful, new family state....wouldn't normally think about spending that kind of money.”
Did you know that the NHS gets paid by Bounty for allowing access to families? An article from the Telegraph in 2013 suggests the amount is up to £5.50 per baby born. What is more, it seems Bounty are actually paid by HMRC to give out child benefit forms – an amount mentioned in The Guardian was that they were paid £90,000 in 2011-12. Surely the forms could be given out when parents register the birth instead?
If their presence generates much needed funds then perhaps there is a middle ground, suggested some of the women who commented. Allow reps into a visiting room so that women can request that they take photos of their newborn baby if they want to, but don’t allow them on to the ward to collect personal data from women who have just given birth. Bounty have a code of conduct for their representatives – it’s a shame that many women’s experiences suggest that they are not enforcing it. Perhaps part of the problem is that their reps work on commission, and it’s too tempting to try to make the sale under any circumstances?
If it was up to me, I’d chuck them out of the NHS entirely. This mass marketing, data collection exercise thinly veiled as a ‘parenting club’ has no place in the NHS’s care for women and babies.
If you have had a bad experience, do let your hospital know - they won't make changes if they think it's working fine. If you'd like to sign a petition, follow this link: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-bounty-on-the-maternity-wards
Photo by Jonathan Goforth CC BY
I'm Liz Dew, founder of SheffieldHypnobirthing.com and I love a good chat about birth. This blog is where I explore some of the things that I find amazing, frustrating, or fascinating about birth and birth culture. Grab a cuppa and dive in.