Reputable organisations such as the UK NHS and two UK royal colleges “profit by selling commercial advertisers access to pregnant women through promotions such as Bounty bag”according to Margaret McCartney, GP.

Because of potential conflicts of interest, Dr McCartney warns against the infiltration of commercial advertising during antenatal and postnatal care.

Baby and You

In her report, Dr McCartney highlighted the case of a commercial company who was offered to advertise in the Baby and You magazine distributed freely by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). The educational/advertorial package would not only influence the readers’ decision; it would also grant the commercial company access to up to date information of 100 000 families.

“The college receives £90,000 a year from the publisher, but said it is ‘concerned to be associated with this practice,’ which it described as ‘ethically questionable’ and that it has ‘strict policies on its advertising and sponsorship and does not seek advertorials for any of its publications,” explained McCartney.

Bounty bags

Dr McCartney states that, every year, the promotions company Bounty pays the NHS £2.3m to distribute 2.6 million ‘baby bags’.

These freebies are distributed either by NHS healthcare professionals or by Bounty’s agents who are allowed access to postnatal wards.

However, the chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), Belinda Phipps, is outraged that the NHS has authorised Bounty to have access to new mothers. “Within hours of giving birth, [new mothers] are being asked questions—their name and address, details of life insurance—and they give them in good faith, thinking they’re speaking to a hospital person. In fact it’s a commercial person. The NHS is condoning a sales team collecting data from mothers in order to sell their name on to commercial interests.”

That’s not all, it appears that HM Revenue and Customs pays Bounty over £90,000/year to distribute the child benefit forms in their ‘baby bags’ — a form which is freely available online.

Emma’s Diary

Emma’s Diary, a book endorsed by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), contains a measly 25 pages of medical information — the remaining 119 pages are only adverts. This book is meant to be distributed among pregnant women.

Further investigation revealed that over £214,000 is recorded as “other income including grants and sponsorships” in the RCPG’s accounts. While the college refused to tell BMJ the net profit made via the adverts in Emma’s Diary, they stated that all content is quality assured by the RCPG editorial board.

What independent surveys show:

In 2010, the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) conducted a survey which showed that 50% of just over 1000 parents were unaware and displeased that their personal information could be used to target advertising to them. 37% knew how their details would be used and were unhappy as well. The remaining survey participants were indifferent.