Babylon Healthcare, trading as GP at Hand, offered people consultations with NHS GPs in minutes by signing up to an app on their phones.
What the GP at Hand advert failed to say up front, was that people would have to leave their existing GP surgery in order to register with them. BPV Steering Group member, Maurice Hoffman, was the first patient to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The advertisement gave the impression that this was a nationally available service when in fact it was restricted to people living within 40 minutes travel time of just 5 specific GP (at Hand) surgeries.
The ASA found that:
Consumers who visited the website and downloaded the app who did not live within the catchment area would not find out that the service was only available within a specific area until they had already taken the transactional decision to attempt to sign up to the service.
Maurice Hoffman hailed the ASA ruling as 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.
“That said, the ASA ruling should also start concentrating minds in the Department of Health, on just how outdated the rules are on how the NHS is funded. 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.”
Commenting further BPV Chair, Robin Sharp, added: “What is worrying about this saga is that the NHS authorities have been slow to intervene against a project clearly designed to destabilise normal GP practices by creaming off a group of younger and on average healthier patients. Instead of requiring a full assessment of the impact of GP at Hand before it got going they are belatedly spending £250,000 of taxpayers’ money “evaluating” a project that should never have been allowed to start in its present form. Sadly the new Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, came out as a supporter of GP at Hand, presumably because of his enthusiasm for all things digital. BPV welcomes all innovations which can improve healthcare but believes that an uncritical approach is both wasteful and potentially damaging.”
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