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Ban for ‘misleading’ GP service ad

BMA welcomes ASA censure

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 03 October 2018

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has clamped down on Babylon Healthcare Services for misleading advertising over a GP service.

Complaints were made after a poster appeared on the London Underground network, a Facebook post, a website and an app for “GP at Hand” services, for Babylon Healthcare Services, featuring the claim: “See an NHS GP in minutes for free.”

Eight complaints were made, one by a GP, challenging the ads for failing to make it clear that in order to use the services advertised consumers must deregister from their own practice when signing up.

The ASA agreed that the consumers should have been made better aware of the fact they would need to change their GP in order to make use of the service, and concluded that the ads were misleading. "GP at Hand" was told that its ads must not appear again in their current form, and that future ads must make it clear that consumers would be replacing their current GP service, that the service was only available to those who lived or worked within the catchment area of specific GP surgeries, and that patients would need to wait until they were registered with a “GP at Hand” surgery before being able to use the service.

A "GP at Hand" spokesperson said, “This ASA judgement refers to GP at Hand advertisements placed online as well as in and around Central London over nine months ago. At that time, our advertisements stated that you can see an NHS-registered GP ‘in minutes, for free, 24/7’. This is indeed something you can do once you’ve registered as a GP at Hand member. The sign-up process and eligibility criteria are clearly explained in detail via our app and website.

"Insurance advertisements, for example, are not required to specify that prospective policy holders need to ‘register’ or ‘apply’ in order to obtain cover. We think the process of ‘registering’ is self-evident and clearly understood by the public.

"The ASA took a different view, however. So, in response to the eight complaints received, we’ve made some minor changes to our GP at Hand advertising to make the sign-up process and eligibility criteria even clearer."

The British Medical Association (BMA) welcomed today’s ruling.

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said, “The BMA has been vocal in its concerns about GP at Hand from the outset, and we are glad that someone is finally taking action and censuring the provider for the dubious way it operates.

“Not only does GP at Hand exploit out of area arrangements and cherry-pick healthy, young patients, but it has done so without being clear with the public from the beginning that by using the service they will be deregistering from their own GP.”

He added: “As the ASA ruling notes, patients are likely to assume this is a quick, convenient service that works in conjunction with their own GP, but the reality is far from this. By signing up with GP at Hand, patients will lose out on all of the advantages of being registered with a local practice – primarily face-to-face appointments with a familiar doctor who has full access to their medical record and can provide holistic, person-centred care from within the community.

“Local practices must therefore be supported in embracing technology and providing online consultations to their own patients. GPs are not anti-tech – but innovation must not come at the expense of the high-quality, expert care being provided to patients in surgeries up and down the country.”

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