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 GPs, 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 doctor.
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.
Maurice Hoffman, a lay member of the National Institute of Health Research Diagnostic Evidence Co-operative (DEC) in London, was one of the first to enter a complaint, and suggested the ASA ruling was a victory for consumers.
He said: “GP surgeries receive funding from the NHS according to how many patients are registered with them. The more patients they have, the money they get from the public purse. The ASA has put a spoke in the wheel of outfits such as the Babylon Healthcare GP at Hand service by preventing blatant misleading of consumers in an exercise that was essentially poaching patients away from their existing GP surgery.”
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.”
Hoffman suggested that the ASA ruling would serve to alert the DHSC “on just how outdated the rules are on how the NHS is funded.”
He said: “The NHS should live up to its name in being national and providing a service. That’s what people need, want and expect. The funding rules are now long past their sell-by date.
“In this day and age, there is an expectation that people should have the choice of being able to access services digitally if they need, and wish to do so.”
15 October 2018 @ 19:48
I think this answer pretty much explains everything:
16 October 2018 @ 15:31
Daniel, your link explains why your local GP at Hand service would not suit my multi-morbidity needs, but does not answer my question, which is “why can’t a GP practice run BOTH a GP at hand service AND a conventional GP service”, so that the practice can give the right level of service to young, old and pregnant mums?”
OK, it would mean a big change to the way that primary care works, and a lot of dyed-in-the-wool GPs will have to rethink the way they work. But so what? They could do with a 21st century kick up the backside.
What it would do is make patients happy and cured. Surely that is what doctors are for? Or, again, am I missing something?
16 October 2018 @ 22:01
Actually they run one! They’ve just opened a clinics at King’s Cross in London to do face-to-face consultations, I know because of an e-mail they sent recently.
I kind of agree with you by the way, it’s what I think all GP practices will do eventually I think. They just need a computer after all, some GPs physicians can even work from home some days! It makes so much more sense, the vast amount of resources spent that could be saved or better used to research or much more needed people.
5 October 2018 @ 10:24
Why can’t a GP practice run a GP at Hand type service for the tech-savvy young and pressed, and a parallel conventional GP service for the old, long term disease patients and patients like me who value continuous care from their GP?
Then everybody would be happy, the GP practice would gain financially on the Babylonian swings what they lose on the traditional roundabouts.
Or am I, in my dotage, missing something?
3 October 2018 @ 10:02
When I read the “advert” paper pamphlet for our bricks and mortar GP practice if did not say “when you need an appointment you have to ring at 8am, but if you don’t get through by 8:15, they’ll all have gone so rock up at A&E”.
3 October 2018 @ 10:21
Erm, by law traditional GP surgeries aren’t allowed to “advertise” for patients.
The only reason Babylon can provide such quick appointments right now is because they have a lot of GPs working for them per number of patients they have registered.
There is an increasingly limited number of GPs in the UK, so if they register more patients there will be lack of appointments again. But the result in the interim will have been the destruction of decentralised, stable, robust primary care.
9 October 2018 @ 09:25
Thought had crossed my mind too.why not you GPs lurking out there…explain please. Bet it something to do with contracts.
There is evolution happening…..I’ve found out that my GP now offers phone consultations. That’s new. Problem is you have to ring at 8am to make one and if you don’t get through by 8:15am they’re all gone
3 October 2018 @ 09:28
If you are pregnant or very ill or old forget it they only take low risk patients – cherry picking from the NHS like this should actually be banned
3 October 2018 @ 11:02
When I registered, I don’t remember (not sure 100% though) being asked any health related question, so I don’t know know how will they assess whether I’m pregnant or ill (old I guess yes since they had my age of course)
In which fact(s) are you basing your comment on? Maybe they changed the registration process and they have a pre-assessment now? That would be definitely worrying!
3 October 2018 @ 13:08
I remember seeing it states somewhere, but they also likely would reject the registration request based on what they see in the notes they receive. Could leave patients in limbo land between surgeries and with a difficult walk back to their original GP surgery to re-register…. and what happens to women who get pregnant after registering?
5 October 2018 @ 10:12
Once you get pregnant, you need to register back with a normal GP practice. West London practices are full of returning patients who did not realize this at sign-up. While I am all in favour of remote appointments for the worried-well, they simply do not work for elderly, frail or people with multiple co-morbidities. And both bring in the same amount of money to practices – if you take out the former, you run out of funds to treat the latter.
5 October 2018 @ 09:03
The requirements on age, pregnancy and illness were actually implemented due to concerns from NHS England about the safety of the App. Yes, private services do tend to take easier cases. In this case, however, it is due to necessity because GP at Hand is actually still in a testing phase (something not made all that clear). NHS England had concerns that patient safety would be put at risk for those groups and that GP at Hand weren’t able to provide evidence that they could properly care for them.
I’m not a supporter of the app or Babylon, but wanted to get the facts right for people.
3 October 2018 @ 01:19
Everyone knew the woman in the flake advert didn’t come withe flake. They didn’t ban that.
3 October 2018 @ 05:51
She looked like she did.