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Bounty Mutiny
April 23, 2014 7:36 AM   Subscribe

"If an NHS trust proposed today that it was going to introduce Viagra sales reps into men's genitourinary wards, or reps for walking aids to orthopaedic wards, the very least you'd expect would be some stout resistance. It is a measure of the strength of the association between "motherhood" and "buying stuff" that the presence of commercial representatives on maternity wards has been tolerated for so long."

For several decades, the NHS has given 'parenting club' and data marketing company Bounty direct access to pregnant women and new mothers, in exchange for an estimated £2.3 million per year. In participating NHS trusts, pregnant women are given 'Bounty packs' by midwives at antenatal appointments and are visited by sales reps from Bounty in hospital after giving birth, who give out more packs, offer to sell baby photographs, and take details to sell onto third-party companies. Bounty are also paid by the government to distribute forms for claiming Child Benefit (a payment the majority of UK families with children are eligible for), which are included in the postnatal Bounty packs.

Recently, both Bounty and the NHS have come under fire for the commercial partnership. The British Medical Journal published an editorial from Dr Margaret McDonald questioning the ethics of combining commercial advertising with NHS advice, the National Childbirth Trust criticised the arrangement with Bounty specifically, and a House of Commons motion called for an end to the practice of allowing sales representatives on maternity wards.

The parenting site Mumsnet has been campaigning against Bounty with its Bounty Mutiny, which began after a number of the site's members shared their experiences of sales reps using dishonest, invasive or high-pressure tactics to get them to give their details or buy photographs of their babies.

But can the NHS afford to end its partnership with firms like Bounty? As the continuing crisis into NHS maternity services (particularly in England) continues, it is unclear how the Department of Health can afford, or practically implement, improvements.
posted by Catseye (29 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow! That bonty mutiny site is cool...can't wait to read the rest, thanks for the awesome post!!!
posted by chapps at 7:57 AM on April 23


...in exchange for an estimated £2.3 million per year.

Well, one thing never changes. The political class never fails to underprice its corruption.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:08 AM on April 23 [25 favorites]


It is a measure of the strength of the association between "motherhood" and "buying stuff" that the presence of commercial representatives on maternity wards has been tolerated for so long."

Great article. I would go even farther and say that it's a measure of the strength of the association between simply being female and "buying stuff." Women have largely been framed (socially, culturally, in advertising, etc.) as the primary consumers of day-to-day goods and services within capitalism for more than a century.
posted by scody at 8:12 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


My partner didn't get anybody hassling her but just a nice box of free stuff. It's easy for established mums to point out how you don't need any fancy disposable stuff for your baby, just water and a cot and your boobs, but the reality for first-time parents is that you're intrigued by the paraphernalia and wipes and stuff, you're just looking for anything that makes it easier, and you need to find out for yourself which junk works for you or doesn't.

In an age where all our personal data is being bought and sold electronically everywhere, all the time, by the state as well, this marketing company getting the names of new mums in order to send them a bunch of coupons for nappies sounds a bit... quaint?
posted by colie at 8:23 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


At the hospital in Boston, USA where my wife gave birth, a cart came by with various items we could purchase. It was run by a local baby store that has a reputation for being both expensive and a great resource for parents (they run parenting classes and the like). They went away when we asked them too, and a few days later when they came by again the sales rep spent some time fitting mrs cubby for nursing bras -- which was a fantastic service since when was she ever going to have time to go to a store and get a proper fitting in the next several months?

There's a way to do this sort of thing right, but I don't think it involves collecting and selling contact information of new parents on a national scale.

(also, the hospital had another cart that came by with free snacks multiple times a day -- that was also greatly appreciated)
posted by cubby at 8:26 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


Wow, that's astonishingly distasteful. I'm not so sure the practice will end under the current government given their desire to privatise as much of the NHS as they can and directly sell tax and health data themselves.
posted by jaduncan at 8:27 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Also, if one is going to sell this commercially sensitive data it's probably not worth doing for £2.3m pa* in a £100bn budget.

* "We also contribute £2.3 million to hospitals each year, funding vital services and equipment in local maternity wards."
posted by jaduncan at 8:30 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Well, how, exactly, do the recipients of NHS services imagine all those health costs are managed? Of course your government is going to sell you out -- you are a product that consumes a service that is not cheap, that the State has agreed to provide for you. Someone's gotta pay for it, one way or another.
posted by gsh at 8:30 AM on April 23


gsh: see above. The NHS is getting almost nothing.
posted by jaduncan at 8:32 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Wow, I thought this was going to be just, like, companies giving moms free stuff via the hospital (which I am in generally in favor of) in order to push their own brand of formula/breast pump storage/diaper/whatever (which, yeah, it's advertising, but still! free samples! when I want to try lots of different sorts of things!), but no, this is CRAZY. Like REALLY crazy. Like:
"I reported one at my hospital to Bounty. Had a nightmare c-section with pfb dd, had a gases bottle still attached so was not in the mood. Guy comes over and really pushes at me. I told him, politely then less so, to feck off. His parting shot to me was it was "sad when a Mum doesn't love their kid enough to have a picture taken" (had decent camera to do it myself). Then to another Mum who said yes told her that "some people say no as their kids are ugly babies". Really loud, in my direction" (This thread)
The really horrifying ones are the shocking number of women who report they had babies in the NICU and the Bounty reps said things like, "Oh, I'll come get your details IF your child lives."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:40 AM on April 23 [10 favorites]


My partner didn't get anybody hassling her but just a nice box of free stuff. It's easy for established mums to point out how you don't need any fancy disposable stuff for your baby, just water and a cot and your boobs, but the reality for first-time parents is that you're intrigued by the paraphernalia and wipes and stuff, you're just looking for anything that makes it easier, and you need to find out for yourself which junk works for you or doesn't.

Colie, did you read the stories in the linked posts? The protesters aren't complaining about the box. They're complaining about remarkably shitty behavior on the part of the Bounty reps, including:

1) Bounty reps telling new mothers they have to purchase photos/provide their information in order to be able to claim Child Benefit (a lie)

2) Bounty reps telling new mothers they need the photographs for "security purposes" (a lie)

3) Bounty reps generally having a disturbingly high level of access to the wards: not taking no for an answer, talking over medical professionals, interfering when new mothers are trying to breastfeed, being allowed access to the wards when the new mother's family is not

4) Some really heinous behavior, including asking new mothers if their child is dead, calling their babies ugly, etc. I don't think it's appropriate to repost entire comments from the threads, but here are some of the things the reps are apparently saying:

"sad when a Mum doesn't love their kid enough to have a picture taken"
"some people say no as their kids are ugly babies".
[on not seeing a baby, because the baby was in intensive care] "oh did it die? Is that why you are moping in here then, you should get out on the ward".
"ah, baby taken away from you, huh? Did you chose that or did the SS?"


Of course it's not likely that every rep is doing this, but the fact that it happens at all is reprehensible. (And the list above is just the crap that's commonly reported -- the commenters also report getting signed up for expensive photopackages without consent, having personal details taken from nursing stations, having Bounty reps wheel away their babies without permission...)

Well, how, exactly, do the recipients of NHS services imagine all those health costs are managed? Of course your government is going to sell you out -- you are a product that consumes a service that is not cheap, that the State has agreed to provide for you. Someone's gotta pay for it, one way or another.

They're getting 2.3 million for this, which is a fucking joke.
posted by pie ninja at 8:53 AM on April 23 [15 favorites]


The really horrifying ones are the shocking number of women who report they had babies in the NICU and the Bounty reps said things like, "Oh, I'll come get your details IF your child lives."

If I had heard that when my best friend's kid was in the NICU for three months, I don't know what I would have done, but I doubt it would have been pretty. There isn't enough money in the world to make it okay to expose families to asinine and appalling comments like the ones reported.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:03 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Well, how, exactly, do the recipients of NHS services imagine all those health costs are managed? Of course your government is going to sell you out -- you are a product that consumes a service that is not cheap, that the State has agreed to provide for you. Someone's gotta pay for it, one way or another.

Well, that would be taxes.

As a citizen I have the right to not be hassled by a company representative when I'm recovering from childbirth. I also don't have to provide a private enterprise with my, or my child's information.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:11 AM on April 23 [11 favorites]


Well, how, exactly, do the recipients of NHS services imagine all those health costs are managed? Of course your government is going to sell you out...

Er, most of us imagine that it's paid for by our taxes. We're not astonished that socialised healthcare needs to be paid for, and it's not inevitable that paying for it must include shitty stuff like this. The only reason it's worth reporting (and the reason for the framing of this post) is that it's a big departure from what goes on in the rest of the NHS.
posted by metaBugs at 9:12 AM on April 23 [7 favorites]


Well, how, exactly, do the recipients of NHS services imagine all those health costs are managed?

Through the taxes we recipients pay? The NHS's budget is something like £100 billion - I don't think anyone's under the impression it's funded from some spare cash the government happened to have lying around.

The Bounty reps I saw when in hospital weren't too pushy - their line was "Hi, I'm from Bounty, have you had your newborn pack yet?" and when I said "No thanks, I'm not interested" they told me how cute my baby was and then left me alone.

However - they're people in uniform, coming round the ward outside visiting hours at a time when even fathers/partners aren't allowed in, and after you've already had loads of actual NHS staff (midwives, nurses, doctors, physios) come by to ask if you've had this or done that or been given the other thing yet. And after you've just given birth. If I hadn't already known what Bounty was, I would have assumed they were hospital staff, not a third-party marketing firm whose main business came from selling our details on to other companies. They certainly didn't make that clear to the other women in my room, who did say yes to the packs and to giving their details.
posted by Catseye at 9:25 AM on April 23 [3 favorites]


Also, if one is going to sell this commercially sensitive data it's probably not worth doing for £2.3m pa* in a £100bn budget.

This was exactly my point. The NHS should have done a better job a determining what the value of this service was. I have done the math, but I would expect them to charge per hospital based on the number of births per year and the potential revenue gains the company might experience. I would ask for those numbers from the company and have them verified by an independent auditor. The taxpayers should NOT be subsidizing a business enterprise by providing a valuable asset at below-market costs. And I'm absolutely sure this customer list is worth way more than £2.3M/year.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:53 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Like cubby said upthread, there's a way to do things right.

I gave birth in Denmark where taxes paid for the bed I was in, and the only brand I saw was Semper, and only because I was in the nursing room looking for formula. Formula brands donate to the hospital to be seen, and perhaps tried there, where they are displayed alongside the prescription only (high protein or without lactose) type formulas. No brand reps spoke to us mothers. It's similar in Sweden, but as an expectant mother you can also find that you suddenly have diapers and small packets of formula etc in the mail. This is because you're suddenly registered as a parent, and somehow the brands find this out and direct mail you samples at once.
When it comes to nursing bras you are sadly on your own. :/ Having one visit when the milk kicked in would have saved me buying ones that were too small!
posted by dabitch at 10:07 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


Luckily for the reps, they are likely to be extremely close to an A&E.
posted by jaduncan at 11:23 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


My wife was very poorly after the birth of our second child. She was prepared for theatre for a hysterectomy and the surgeon and team were in full gowns swarming around her. At the last minute the decided to cancel the procedure and she was cared for by a specialist registrar and 2 midwives from the delivery suite. In the hours after the birth she didn't hold our daughter for more than a few seconds because she was weak and confused. It was not a good time, but thankfully she came out of it just fine.

Eventually she was taken to the ward and I sat patiently in a little room while they monitored her and confirmed she was stable. After an hour I was allowed in to see her, only to find the bounty pack by her bed. The sales rep had already been in. She said, albeit slightly confused because she was on some pretty heavy drugs, that the woman had been "very persistent" about signing her up for baby photos saying she would "never get another chance" for those just born photos. She had managed to decline that hard sell, but had given her name and address because she was told it was needed "for child benefit"... which was a lie. The benefit forms were in the pack and the misspelt address (thanks drugs!) allowed us to see just how many companies that was sold to over the coming years. She thought the woman was a hospital employee, but wasn't sure if she'd been told that or had just assumed it given the situation.

We made a written complaint after we left the hospital and were told it would be looked at. We never heard anything else, and regretfully we dropped it and moved on.

So yeah - the way these reps wander the wards and the access they are given to new mothers (some of whom are literally patients) in a time of emotion/stress/confusion/whatever is a disgrace.
posted by samworm at 12:12 PM on April 23 [13 favorites]


Wow, that's really disturbing.
posted by dabitch at 12:29 PM on April 23


Are "just born" photographs a "thing" in the UK or is just something this company has established?

I've never heard of photographers roaming the halls of US maternity wards, though we did get a certificate for a "free" portrait session in our new parent package, along with wipes, coupons, etc.
No formula though, which isn't surprising considering where we live.
posted by madajb at 1:17 PM on April 23


Is this a new thing? When my daughter was born there weren't any sales reps pestering my partner after she had given birth. Which was very lucky for the sales reps.
The political class never fails to underprice its corruption.
Many years ago I provided IT support to a Borough council who had a particularly grumpy head of legal. Being the new guy I would be sent to deal with the scary man and after a while his edges began to soften. It became obvious the reason his irascibility was tolerated was also the reason for it existing, he did not suffer fools but was floating in a sea of them. He told me a story about how a cable company (they've changed their names a few times but as it's the UK I'm sure you know who they are) wanted to lay cable in an enormous housing estate on the outskirts of town. As permission was required by the council Ray (let's call him Ray) decided this had to be worth something.

Ray : We'll allow you to lay the cable in the estate, in return you will link all 9 council sites with fibre and support it for free.

CableCo : There's no way you can do that. Nobody else has forced such ridiculous demands on us. We'll do it at a discount for 5 years.

Ray : You'll do it for free and you'll do it for as long as you're providing a consumer service in the town.

CableCo : This is an outrage, we'll complain to the government.

Ray : About what?

CableCo : We'll sue!

Ray : That'll be expensive

CableCo : ...

Ray : :D

CableCo : Ok. when can we start laying our cable?

Ray : After you've finished linking the sites.

The sad thing was, nobody else really had asked for something in return for allowing the company to profit from the locals, they just rolled over and gave them what they wanted.

Of course, this too made Ray grumpy.
posted by fullerine at 2:40 PM on April 23 [11 favorites]


Had no idea this had been going on for decades
posted by memebake at 2:49 PM on April 23


I've never heard of photographers roaming the halls of US maternity wards

Anecdotal: I did have a photo sales rep come to my hospital room the day after the birth of my child, just a few years ago (in Los Angeles). It wasn't a hard sell though. Looking at it now, I suppose if I'd signed up I probably would have ended up on some mailing lists, but in the end I declined because we were having a tough enough time getting sleep etc to worry about photos. If they'd given me the hard sell, my son would have gotten an early education in chucking unwanted visitors out the door. Less than 24 hours in, I was already a mama-bear.
posted by vignettist at 4:39 PM on April 23


madajb: "Are "just born" photographs a "thing" in the UK or is just something this company has established? I've never heard of photographers roaming the halls of US maternity wards,"

Where I live (in the US), most hospitals have a couple of "hospital photographers," and they include a sheet with the photography information in the packet of stuff you get that also tells you about infant vaccinations and how to get a social security number and where to go for lactation support and what programs the library has for babies and all that kind of thing. A lot of people DO want professional "first-day" photographs; we didn't do it, but most people I know who did it were happy with the hospital photographers, who were used to shooting newborns and exhausted moms in a hospital room setting and making it look fancy, and who could easily pop in at convenient times. But it was 100% patient-intiated.

The one place the nurses do bring it up with you is if your baby's in the NICU; a lot of parents later regret not having gotten pictures of their baby during that time (or, God forbid, any pictures at all), but that's a really hard thing to think about while going through all the trauma of having a preemie, especially a very fragile preemie. I know a photographer who does NICU sessions and she had to go through a big training at the hospital so that she's sensitive to the special needs of NICU parents.

(They also had a hospital beautician at the hospital where I delivered, who would go and paint your toes or do your hair and makeup ... she does some new moms who want to look nice for their in-laws descending on the hospital or whatever, but a lot of kids on inpatient stays, or older people who've been hospitalized, who need a little cheering up. Or someone who's been in for a month and just wants a haircut before they go home so they don't have to deal with it while recovering at home. At first I thought this was a super-weird thing for a hospital to have, but now it seems like a good idea!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:37 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


This is probably the best chance I've had my entire time on metafilter to make a relevant comment, as I'm sat here worth my 36-hour-old daughter over my shoulder (any tips on how to get a newborn to settle in her basket rather than in her parents' arms will be gratefully received) but the experience my wife and I had on the midwife led unit was pretty unspectacular compared to some of these horror stories. The rep came by to ask if we'd had the box of stuff, and when we told her no simply left never to return. Maybe we were just lucky to get the world's most forgetful or least persistent saleswoman.

Nonetheless it's deeply odd how official it's made to seem - they dress in uniforms that you could easily mistake for a midwife or some other hospital staff, and they visit right in the middle of genuine medical checkups so when you're already not on peak form due to sleep deprivation or recovery from delivery I can easily see that a new patent could think they're more official/important than they actually are. It's not just after birth, too, a bunch of the literature they give expectant parents is basically just a Bounty catalogue.
posted by Dim Siawns at 8:33 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


(They also had a hospital beautician at the hospital where I delivered, who would go and paint your toes or do your hair and makeup ... At first I thought this was a super-weird thing for a hospital to have, but now it seems like a good idea!)

That's really neat, hospitals can be pretty inhuman places at times.
posted by madajb at 2:20 AM on April 24


madajb: "Are "just born" photographs a "thing" in the UK or is just something this company has established?

I gave birth in a private hospital in Texas, USA, in 2002. After 27 hours of labor, they rushed me into emergency surgery for a c-section. (Both I and the baby did great, all happy...he was just 13 pounds of baby, and my cervix said "Oh. Hell. No.")

Point being; I was heavily medicated, and had been rolled into the recovery room, where they keep you till they're pretty sure you're not shocky or whatever. While I was IN THE RECOVERY ROOM, while they had just taken the baby for weighing and whatever arcane stuff they do, this crazy photographer was all over me. And don't even get me started on the Nipple Nazis with their $700 breast pumps and $300 accessory kits, and the ripping up the free formula coupons because "no good mother would ever bottle feed."

I've had hospital stays before, but only on the maternity ward was I aggressively attacked by a sales force.


On preview: Dim Siawns, have you tried a tight swaddle? That was the thing that finally worked for us. Here is a short youtube example of the method we used.
posted by dejah420 at 6:46 AM on April 24


Ah, those stupid boxes. I don't live in the UK, but in my country they are also standard. I got two from different companies during my prenatal classes and no less than three during my stay in the hospital. All I had to do to get one was fill out a form with my name and address and some other information so that they could send me- free of charge!- a year's subscription to the dumbest baby-n-me magazine I have ever seen. Being the clever brat that I am I read the six inches of fine print until I got to the part where it said "make a check in this microscopic box if you don't want us to sell your information to third parties", so I pointed it out to everyone else in the prenatal class and we all checked the box. It felt like the most subversive thing I could do while 7 months pregnant.

The contents of the boxes were mostly useless (like, they all contained bottles of water), except for the two free pacifiers, which really saved my ass.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 7:08 AM on April 24


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