Private hospitals reviewing formula-milk arrangements

A lady buying milk powder at the Fairprice Ang Mo Kio. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Babies in a nursery at Mount Alvernia hospital. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Mount Alvernia Hospital yesterday said that it does not accept sponsorships or payments from infant formula milk makers to offer their brands to new mothers.

It does, however, allow these companies to sponsor activities which educate patients on baby care and nutrition.

The hospital's response came a day after a Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) report on rising prices for infant milk powder found that manufacturers had been paying or sponsoring private hospitals to distribute their products.

While parents at most hospitals are free to choose a formula milk for their children if it is required, most do not have a preference and are provided with a brand.

Hospitals typically rotate brands throughout the year.

Formula milk companies invest significant marketing resources in hospitals to gain a "first-mover" advantage, the report said, noting that most parents do not switch formula brands later.

Meanwhile, Thomson Medical said suppliers pay the same amount each for their brands to be part of its monthly rotation, and most of the money is channelled to support activities that benefit patients.

Other private hospitals offering maternity services - Raffles and Parkway Pantai, which Mount Elizabeth, Mount Elizabeth Novena, Gleneagles and Parkway East hospitals are under - said that they will review their policies and practices, but did not say whether they accept sponsorships or fees for their milk rotation programmes.

Parkway Pantai said that milk companies sponsor and support nursing education, and it will review and align its practices, given the CCS recommendations.

Mount Alvernia also said it will study recommendations to review current sponsorship arrangements and make adjustments if necessary.

Raffles, Thomson and Mount Alvernia said that they are working towards Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) certification, which bars sponsorship arrangements with formula companies.

All three public hospitals offering maternity services - KK Women's and Children's Hospital, the National University Hospital and the Singapore General Hospital - are BFHI-certified.

Formula milk companies Danone Dumex, Abbott, Nestle and FrieslandCampina said they are studying the CCS report and are cooperating with the authorities. Mead Johnson Nutrition did not respond to queries on the report by press time.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2017, with the headline Private hospitals reviewing formula-milk arrangements. Subscribe