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Sunday, 6 March 2016
The Sunday Times starts to investigate 'Forever Living Products (FLP)' racket
NHS staff top up pay with sales scheme
Robin Henry Published: 6 March 2016
NHS staff are moonlighting as salespeople for a controversial marketing scheme and using dubious health claims to promote its products.
Consultants, midwives, managers and nurses are among those recruited by Forever Living Products, an American company that sells aloe-based supplements and beauty treatments.
Last year it was criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for making false claims about the health benefits of its products and was warned not to use health professionals in its promotional materials.
Despite this The Sunday Times has uncovered cases of NHS staff claiming that Forever products can help treat a range of disorders including diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and child hyperactivity.
Forever is a multi-level marketing firm, a controversial business model that works by recruiting members of the public to buy and sell goods from home and then provides incentives for them to enrol others, including friends, colleagues and family.
Recruits are required to make an initial payment of £200 in return for a “start-up box” containing products. In order to progress through the scheme they must then make regular top-up purchases.
The company has thousands of members in the UK and regularly holds Success Express events at which the top-selling “Forever business owners” (FBOs) give triumphant speeches to packed-out auditoriums.
At one event in 2013 an FBO called Peter Campbell took to the stage with his wife and daughter and introduced himself as “still in the NHS as a full-time orthopaedic surgeon”.
Campbell, who works for York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, told the audience he was initially sceptical about Forever’s products but was persuaded to try them by his wife.
“I did agree to use the products, mainly to keep her quiet and to prove that they didn’t work, but within two to three months I was absolutely staggered by the benefits to my own health and in my family and our friends,” he said.
He went on to claim the income he would receive from working part-time for Forever for five years would “match what it’s taken me 20 years to build up” in the NHS.
A video of Campbell’s speech has been uploaded to Forever’s official YouTube channel, where it is used as a promotional tool to recruit others and sell products.
Yesterday Campbell said he no longer worked full-time for the NHS, adding: “We believe [the Forever products] are beneficial to a healthy lifestyle and I can confirm I do recommend them to others on that basis.”
In another video, from an event in 2014, a midwife at a south London NHS trust boasts that she has recruited colleagues, including a consultant obstetrician, and former patients to the scheme in order to boost her pension.
The ASA confirmed that company YouTube channels are covered by advertising rules and said it was examining the videos.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has launched an investigation of the company.
A search of the business networking site LinkedIn brought up dozens of NHS workers moonlighting for Forever. Among them was a children’s diabetes nurse from Blackburn who claimed that a Forever product could help “in maintaining blood glucose control”.
Whistleblowers from the company have told The Sunday Times they were instructed to draw up a list of everyone they knew and contact 15-20 of these “prospects” every day.
One of Forever’s official training manuals advised sellers to contact sick people and to read a script saying: “I know that you have been bothered with health problems (mention the problem) and I have just come across an amazing product which I think will help you. Can I come around and show you what I’ve found?”
Another training document coached sellers on how to sidestep the regulators: “Talk to customers about the health benefits of the products but don’t write them down in any form of advertising on or offline, this would be a claim.”
A registered nurse whom Forever tried to recruit has accused the moonlighting NHS staff of exploiting their position. “It was a nurse who first tried to recruit me to Forever and then sold her family and friends a lot of products using the fact she was a nurse to add legitimacy,” she said.
Another whistleblower said she was recruited by a colleague who trumpeted the supposed “wealth benefits” of signing up for Forever.
However, she ended up losing far more than she earned and claimed FBOs are told by other members to “fake it until they make it”.
One poster girl for Forever’s self-made success stories is Emma Cooper, a former officer with Greater Manchester police who is now a top Forever earner. She posts videos and photographs of her glamorous lifestyle including a renovated folly she is renting for £3,950 a month in south Wales with a driveway full of luxury cars.
Cooper defended Forever, saying it is an “ethical company” that she is “proud” to be a part of.
“I have never heard of ‘fake it until you make it’; I have only ever stuck to my morals and values,” she added.
Forever said FBOs were not permitted to make medical claims about products and that it takes any breach of this policy “very seriously”.
It said it had introduced new guidelines in December stipulating that only official Forever promotional materials could be used by sellers.
Contrary to some of the wild financial claims made by NHS-employed FBOs, Forever’s official marketing stresses “time and commitment” over fast and easy riches.
“Many of these allegations are new to us . . . we are looking into them urgently,” it said.