A LEADING Scots GP claims the NHS is profiting from allowing pregnant women's details to be sold to commercial companies, often without their full knowledge or consent.

Glasgow GP Dr Margaret McCartney also warns that the NHS and professional bodies such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) are guilty of a conflict of interest by collaborating in the advertising of thousands of products to pregnant women and new mothers.

She also criticises Bounty, a promotions company which supplies 2.6 million Bounty bags a year to new mothers, including 812,000 newborn packs distributed through NHS maternity wards.

Writing in the British Medical Journal today, Dr McCartney describes the RCOG's recent involvement in the setting up of Baby and You magazine.

She claims the magazine's publisher approached a company which supplies cribs for newborn babies, offering a guaranteed minimum audience of 500,000 mothers and parents "through their obstetrician/midwife, the most trusted and influential person throughout this entire time."

The company, Bednest, was offered an "advertorial" piece in the magazine package costing £15,000, which would include a database of 100,000 families.

Instead the company's managing director Mark Green complained, she claims.

"Green, horrified at how easy it seemed to pay for influence, contacted the RCOG. The college is investigating," she writes.

Meanwhile the RCGP-branded Emma's Diary is a pack containing 25 pages of medical information and 119 pages of advertising, Dr McCartney says.

She claims the RCGP was not willing to tell the BMJ how much it received for the advertising in Emma's Diary.

Many of the mothers who sign up to receive Bounty Bags while in hospital are not aware they are agreeing to their email address and telephone number being used by commercial companies, she argues.

In some cases they do not even realise the person collecting the information is not an NHS employee, while the inclusion of a child-benefit application form in the packs gives them an "air of officialdom".

The BMJ article cites research from the National Childbirth Trust which found more than 87% of 1000 parents surveyed were unhappy about the use of their details to target advertising at them.

Dr McCartney said: "The lack of knowledge about what signing over your details means is troubling in a hospital environment, which should take consent and confidentiality seriously. The hours after birth are hardly an optimal time to obtain formal consent.

"Do we want parents placed under advertising pressure and for NHS doctors, radiographers and midwives to be the conduit?"

A spokeswoman for the RCOG said Baby and You Magazine was produced "in association" with the Royal College. She added: "The RCOG receives a fixed royalty from B&Y. All monies are reinvested in the RCOG's charitable activities.

She said: "The RCOG plays no role in the pitching process to potential advertisers. We do not offer advertorials in any of our publications in exchange for influence as reported in the BMJ article.

"The RCOG was made aware of an approach by a member of staff from B&Y to a commercial organisation and immediately notified the publishers, asking for an investigation into the complaint."

Lisa Penney, spokeswoman for Bounty, said: "99% of NHS hospitals choose to welcome Bounty on maternity wards. A phenomenal 96% of mums choose to join Bounty so that they can continue to learn, share and save with us and our partners. Members have the ability to opt out of communications at any time and our staff follow a strict code of conduct which respects mum's privacy and her freedom to choose."

A spokesperson for the Royal College of GPs said: "Commercially viable publications such as Emma's Diary, which is distributed free of charge, are invariably paid for by advertising but all advertising is approved in line with RCGP guidelines."