The Advertising Standards Authority has banned a series of “misleading” adverts promoting Babylon’s GP at Hand smartphone app.
The adverts failed to inform consumers they would have to leave their current GP, live in certain catchment areas and wait up to three weeks to be registered for the service, the watchdog found.
It is just the latest setback facing the digital healthcare provider, which was blocked from expanding outside of London earlier this year following an objection by NHS England.
The ASA’s ruling came after eight members of the public, including a doctor, complained that Babylon ads appearing on the London Underground and social media claimed consumers could see “NHS doctors in minutes”.
“We considered that 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,” the ASA said.
“We considered that because users of the service would need to change their GP in order to make use of it, this was material information that consumers should have been made aware of in the ads.”
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, was criticised in September for backing a nationwide rollout of Babylon’s app before an official review had been completed. The review, conducted by Ipsos MORI and a research institute in York, is not due until spring next year.
A spokesperson for Babylon 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.”