'Free baby formula' claim is just another coronavirus hoax, officals warn

Yahoo News UK
Panic-buying has led to shortages of baby milk formula in the UK.
Panic-buying has led to shortages of baby milk formula in the UK.

Claims that parents can get free formula milk by calling 111 have been exposed as a coronavirus hoax.

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Viral posts advising parents to phone formula companies or 111 to request formula are false information, NHS 111 has confirmed.

Supermarket stocks of formula have run low as panicked shoppers stockpile in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and worried parents have been venting their frustration on social media.

Posts suggesting 111 can supply free baby formula have been outed as hoaxes by a mums group. (The Motherload/Facebook)
Posts suggesting 111 can supply free baby formula have been outed as hoaxes by a mums group. (The Motherload/Facebook)

The Motherload website, which has a members group of almost 100,000 mums on Facebook alone, saw dozens of posts shared on Monday suggesting that parents who were unable to buy formula could call manufacturers and request a free box, so it decided to investigate.

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The Motherload founder Kate Dyson told Yahoo News UK: “There has been an explosion of false viral posts over the last 24 hours about how to obtain baby formula in a crisis, due to low levels in store as a result of panic buying.

“Unsure as to the validity of these claims, our moderation team took some time to speak to both formula companies and NHS 111 to confirm that this is false information being given to parents.

Supermarket stocks of baby formula are running low due to panic-buying. (Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Supermarket stocks of baby formula are running low due to panic-buying. (Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“Our concern regarding the posts is that it gives a false reassurance to already panicked or sick parents who may rely on this information. The Motherload's top priority is to ensure parents are supported with reliable and responsible information at all times.”

Baby milk formula manufacturer Aptamil confirmed that the claims are false.

A spokesperson said: "This is not true and I'm really sorry to hear that people are spreading false rumours at such a worrying time.

“The World Health Organization guidelines on the promotion of breastmilk substitutes strictly prohibit us from giving out free milk under any circumstances."

NHS 111 also confirmed that it is not possible for it to issue prescriptions for normal baby formula.

A statement sent to Yahoo News UK said: “Ensuring the public has easy access to accurate NHS advice however they search for it, not only will support people to take the right action but will also help the country’s response to coronavirus.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, added: “The NHS has already been battling coronavirus fake news, from working to take down false Twitter accounts to speaking out against misleading treatments being promoted by homeopaths online.

“It’s right that social media platforms and search engines take any action so they can help ensure the public are directed to NHS advice first.”

Tara Donnelly, chief digital officer at NHSX, the NHS information provider platform, said: “One of NHSX’s key missions is to ensure that the public are provided with accurate health information so they can be confident they are following official NHS advice.”

If you are struggling to obtain formula, the advice is to contact your health visitor for support and further information.

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