• Advertising Standards Authority rules Babylon Healthcare’s GP at Hand adverts were misleading
  • The watchdog has told the digital healthcare firm that the adverts must not appear again in their current form
  • The ASA’s investigation was sparked by eight complaints from the public about the adverts

A national watchdog has upheld a series of complaints accusing Babylon Healthcare and GP at Hand of publishing misleading adverts.

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that the adverts for GP at Hand - in which Babylon is a partner, and forms a major part of the service - were misleading because:

  • They did not make clear people would have to leave their current GP to register;
  • They did not specify the service was only available to people who lived or worked in the catchment area of its five GP surgeries; and
  • They claimed customers could “see an NHS GP in minutes” when it could take more than a week to register.

The complaints were lodged by eight people about four adverts for the online GP service including a poster on the London Underground and a Facebook post. The company has run major advertising campaigns on the Underground since it launched GP at Hand.

Babylon Healthcare, trading as GP at Hand, told the ASA that the fact people had to leave their current GPs was flagged up to customers several times when signing up for the service.

It also said the service was open to anyone living within 40 minutes drive of the five surgeries and that the claim “see an NHS GP in minutes” described the service once customers had registered.

But the ASA upheld the complaints on all three issues and told Babylon and GP at Hand that the adverts must not appear again in their current form.

It said: “Because the ads did not make clear that consumers must change their GP to use the service, we concluded that the ads were misleading.

“Because the fact that GP at Hand was a local service available only to people who lived or worked in some areas of London was material information, and that was neither made clear in the ads nor were the ads targeted to consumers who were eligible to sign up to the service, we concluded that the ads were misleading.

“We considered that, taken in full, consumers would understand from the ads that they would be able to quickly sign up and use the GP at Hand service. Because that was not always the case, we concluded that the ads were misleading.”

The ASA has told Babylon and GP at Hand that any new adverts must make clear customers will be replacing their current GP, the service is only available in certain areas, and it can only be accessed after they are registered.

The tech firm has won the endorsement of new health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, who said last month he wants to help it expand “so loads of companies can come do what Babylon are doing”.

It has contacted more than a dozen clinical commissioning groups aiming to expand its service across the country, although a planned move into Birmingham has been blocked.

Babylon said in a statement: ”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.”