The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled misleading adverts promising doctor appointments “within minutes” through the GP at Hand service, offered to patients in some parts of London through a partnership between Babylon - providing the digital technology behind it - and the NHS.
The service enables patients living or working in the catchment areas of the five GP surgeries where GP at Hand is available to book video consultations with NHS GPs and provides access to an online symptom checker, along with other features, with more than 32,000 people currently registered.
But adverts appearing on the London Underground network and online between November 2017 and February this year stating that patients could “see an NHS GP in minutes for free 24/7” were found misleading after the ASA received eight complaints about the claim, including one from a GP.
The ASA said the ads did not make it “clear” that switching to the GP at Hand service would mean replacing patients’ current GPs and that only people living or working within 40 minutes travel time to one of the five GP practices would be able to use it.
Given that GP at Hand was considered a "relatively new service" and people could use similar products offered by competitors operating in the private sector without leaving their GP, the ASA said "consumers were likely to regard the service provided by GP at Hand as an additional service to supplement the service that they received from their current GP”.
Patients should have been made aware of this, the ASA said, as the information was “likely to affect whether or not a consumer would investigate the service further”.
Commenting on the regulator's ruling, a spokesperson 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.
“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.
“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.”
GP at Hand has been backed by UK Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock, who previously described the service in an interview as "revolutionary" and said he wanted to see it "become available to all", although plans to expand it to Birmingham were blocked by commissioners earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Babylon announced last month that it would invest $100m to double its London team of scientists and engineers and apply artificial intelligence to assist with management of chronic diseases, and this week was included in the 2018 LinkedIn list of most sought-after start-ups to work for in the UK.
A Babylon spokesperson said:
“We thank LinkedIn for naming Babylon in their top startups of 2018. We strive to be at the forefront of innovation in digital-first health, are proud of the Babylonians providing a consistently high quality of care and are thankful to our 3 million-plus members for their support.”