Digital health startup Babylon hit by ASA bans over 'misleading' tube posters

The ASA has banned Facebook and Tube ads from digital healthcare service GP At Hand, operated by Babylon

Digital healthcare startup Babylon has been slapped with a series of bans from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after complaints were made about its website, app, Facebook and London Underground poster ads.

The ASA investigated the healthcare company’s campaigns after a GP complained that they were misleading.

The ads promoted the company’s ‘GP At Hand’ service, which is currently available across select catchment areas in London. The service allows eligible users to have a doctor’s appointment via a video call, enabling them to get NHS prescriptions and medical advice.

A poster ad seen across the Underground network stated that customers could ‘See an NHS GP in minutes for free 24/7’, and featured the NHS logo in the top right corner. Similarly, a paid-for Facebook post told readers that they could: ‘See an NHS GP in minutes from your phone for free 24/7’.

The same language was repeated across a Babylon-operated website, gpathandnhs.uk and the GP At Hand app.

However, the ASA noted that the ads didn't tell consumers they would have to leave their current GP to use the GP At Hand tool. The service is currently only available at five surgeries across London. The watchdog suggested the lack of detail about the service in the ads, coupled with the novelty of the service itself, meant that consumers would assume they could use it without registering with a different GP.

The ASA stated: “this was material information that consumers should have been made aware of in the ads.”

Babylon suggested that its website was “clear” that users would need to switch GPs and that the line ‘See an NHS GP in minutes’ was a description of the service once users had registered, rather than a claim true for immediate viewers of the ads. The ASA concluded however, that the claim was untrue, since it can typically take up to a week to register with a new GP.

The watchdog also suggested that, given the ads’ use of the NHS brand, consumers would not be aware that the service was limited by geography, and that the presence of the ads across the Underground network increased the potential to mislead, since they would be seen by many ineligible users.

The ASA told Babylon that the ads “must not appear again in their current form,” and that GP At Hand must make certain that future ads are clear about whether service users are eligible.

In an interview with The Drum last month, Babylon founder Ali Parsa said that he wanted “to put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on Earth,” and create reliable AI doctors.

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