Published: 11/4/2002, Volume II2, No. 5800 Page 26

Another public health initiative that could save the NHS millions of pounds is the promotion of breast-feeding ('Pecking order', news focus, 14 March).

In 1996, the Department of Health estimated that the NHS spent£35m a year in England and Wales treating gastroenteritis in bottle-fed infants, and that for each 1 per cent increase in breastfeeding at 13 weeks a saving of£500,000 would be achieved.

Higher breast-feeding rates are also likely to save money in the treatment of respiratory and ear infections in babies, and allergies, diabetes, some cancers and cardiovascular disease in children and adults. Adopting recognised best practice standards in the maternity and community services is a straightforward, proven and cost-effective way of increasing breast-feeding.

However, it is not only as a service provider that the NHS can save money by supporting breast-feeding. Introducing imaginative breast-feeding policies also benefits employers, as they can reduce absenteeism while improving morale and staff retention.

More information on both these opportunities can be found at www. babyfriendly. org. uk/ph Andrew Radford Programme director UNICEF UK