A poster featured across London Underground for Babylon Health’s GP at Hand and other adverts for the service have been banned, after the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled they were ‘misleading’.
The ruling body investigated three issues about the poster, a Facebook post, a website and an app for the service, which allows patients to book appointments and talk to a doctor through their smartphone.
The poster, seen on London Underground platforms and trains in November 2017 and February 2018, claimed users could ‘See an NHS GP in minutes for free 24/7’, with the NHS logo in the top right corner and ‘GP at Hand powered by Babylon’ appearing in the bottom right.
The paid-for Facebook post, seen in December 2017, stated: ‘See an NHS GP in minutes from your phone for free 24/’ above an image of a video call with a doctor on a smartphone and text which stated ‘See NHS doctors in minutes’.
The GP at Hand website, seen in December 2017, stated: ‘See an NHS GP in minutes for free 24/7 … Sign up in 3 minutes’.
Finally, the GP at Hand app stated: ‘See an NHS GP in minutes for free … A simple, secure & convenient way to access NHS healthcare’. At the bottom right corner of the screen, text stated ‘Providing NHS services’ below the NHS logo.
Eight complaints, including from a GP, were made against the adverts for being misleading, as they did not make it clear that in order to use the services advertised, patients must leave their current GP.
Additionally, they did not state that the service was only available to patients who lived or worked in the catchment area of specific GP surgeries.
Complainants also pointed out that registering with a new GP after joining the service could take up to three weeks, challenging the ad’s ‘see an NHS GP in minutes’ claim.
Babylon argued potential users were made aware of the fact that they would have to de-register from their current GP ‘several times’ before they sign up for the service.
They also said patients did not need to live in the normal catchment area of the surgeries in order to make use of them, and that patients living within 40 minutes travel time of one of the five surgeries were entitled to use the full GP at Hand service.
Responding to the final complaint surrounding the ‘See an NHS GP in minutes’ claim, Babylon argued this was a description of the service, ‘once potential customers had registered’.
However, all three issues raised by the complainants were upheld and ASA ruled the adverts ‘must not appear again in their current form’.
The ruling added: “We told GP at Hand to ensure that future ads made clear that consumers would be replacing their current GP service with GP at Hand, that the service was only available to those that lived or worked within the catchment area of specific GP surgeries and that consumers would need to wait until they were registered with a GP at Hand surgery before being able to use the service.”
A spokesman for GP at Hand 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.”
The spokesperson added: “With over 32,000 people currently registered with GP at hand – and more than 4 out of 5 people rating our digital appointments giving them the full five stars – Londoners clearly like our service, because great care only comes when great doctors are supported by great technology.”
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