Push Doctor implies private service is run by NHS doctors

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[first posted 27 August 2017, updated with ASA verdict 20 April 2018]

GPs and campaigners in London were shocked to see posters on the London Underground advertising Push Doctor – this is a private doctor service encouraging people to pay per consultation and to bypass the family GP. [Update: the CQC reported on the service in June 2017 – see below]

Push Doctor adverts and website imply a very close relationship with the NHS:

“All Push Doctor GPs are NHS-trained and work in NHS clinics in their regular jobs.

Push NHS is a revolutionary technology solution enabling NHS GPs to give medical advice online to patients via live, secure video link-up”

Having introduced Push NHS’, the link ‘See a doctor’  goes straight to the Push Doctor booking site. They are hoping to profit from the drive towards ‘app-based medicine’ which is one prominent theme in NHS England’s presentation of the impossible – how the NHS will deliver excellent health care with £22billion of underfunding annually by 2020/21.

Push Doctor outrageously claims ‘You will never go to the doctor’s again’ (untrue – unsafe). And relies heavily on the strong implication that the doctors are working for the NHS when they see you.  The advert states:

“The UK’s most popular online doctor service is open 6am – 11pm, 7 days a week, allowing you to access an NHS GP whenever you want” [added emphasis]

[The whole advert, spotted on the Northern Line to Wimbledon]

The advert fails to mention charges although these are explained on the website: at £20 for the first 10 minutes, the price rises to £40 for more than 10 minutes, £48 if you need a prescription and £63 if you need a referral on (extras for admin). And of course no physical examination is possible.

Complaint submitted to the Advertising Standards Authority

Some doctors have submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, disgusted that Push Doctor is taking advantage of government deliberate neglect and underfunding of primary care and GPs. We await the outcome with interest.

KONP campaigns for full funding of primary care and the NHS as a whole and are totally opposed to privatisation. Private firms cherry pick where the NHS has deliberately been left vulnerable and undermines is.

Add your voice – write to the ASA

Use this post and the letter below to help write your complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority and let them know that the public is very concerned about this Push Doctor advertising:

  • Select ‘complaining as a member of the public
  • Type of ad: ‘Outdoor: Ads on poster … inc buses and trains’
  • Brand/product: Push Doctor private medical consultation

Example of a submitted complaint – but use your own words:

“I submit this complaint about an advert from Push Doctor seen on the London Underground and the website it directs the public to, shared on social media . This is a private doctor service encouraging people to pay per consultation and to bypass the family GP. The advert itself does not mention payment, failing to clarify this is not an NHS appointment.

“The London Underground advert and the website imply a very close relationship with the NHS which is deliberately misleading. It states:

” ‘All Push Doctor GPs are NHS-trained and work in NHS clinics in their regular jobs’. ‘Push NHS is a revolutionary technology solution enabling NHS GPs to give medical advice online to patients via live, secure video link-up’.

“The link ‘See a doctor’ goes straight to the Push Doctor booking site. This offers bookings for a private consultation, without clarifying that the doctor is not acting for the NHS during that consultation.

“There is a heavy reliance on the strong implication that the doctors are working for the NHS when they see you: ‘The UK’s most popular online doctor service … allowing you to access an NHS GP whenever you want’.

“Push Doctor also claims ‘You will never go to the doctor’s again’ (untrue and not safe).

“This advert and the linked website is misleading the general public in to believing they are receiving an NHS consultation for which they are having to pay. The advert omits to mention that payment is involved, further failing to clarify this is not an NHS consultation, and there are misleading claims associated with the advertising, without any warning of potential drawbacks in not seeing your own GP, with your full medical history available.

“This advert should be withdrawn and Push Doctor should be censured by the ASA.”

Update [30 August 2017] – CQC inspection finds significant concerns: 

Push Doctor was inspected by the Care Quality Commission in March and the report was published June 2017. Several serious concerns were raised with details reported in digitalhealth:

“The CQC’s report also found that GPs working for the online service had prescribed high-risk medicine such as blood thinners without appropriate patient checks, and urgent action was taken to prevent Push Doctor treating children without appropriate checks first being undertaken.  It has now been introduced.”

The CQC made mandatory requirements as well as pointing to areas that ‘should’ be improved:

“The areas where the provider must make improvements are:

  • The service must have protocols in place that are followed to ensure the health and safety of service users.
  • The service must assess the risks to the health and safety of service users and do all that is practicable to mitigate any such risk.
  • The service must maintain an accurate and complete record of each service user.
  • Ensure that all prescribing decisions are based on best clinical practice and GMC guidelines.
  • Ensure the service has an effective system in place for quality improvement.”

“The areas where the provider should make improvement are:

  • Introduce structured documented meetings programme
  • Introduce a training needs assessment and recording system
  • To provide equality and diversity training for staff

The CQC will monitor these required and recommended improvements.

Tony O’Sullivan

Update – 20th April 2018

In August 2017 we wrote a post about Push Doctor and it’s false advertising.
The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) has now banned some Push Doctor ads for implying that services were provided by the NHS, and therefore not making it clear there was a charge. It published its findings 11 April. The fact that a private company found themselves in this predicament speaks volumes about the long and trusted relationship the general public has with the NHS. Capitalising out of its established name whilst helping to systematically undermine its core values, is something Keep Our NHS Public is deeply opposed to and we are glad the ASA has seen fit to uphold our complaint.
Indeed, our organisation was the first to raise this issue with the ASA and to publicise this abuse of advertising which risks undermining NHS-provided primary care. Four out of six complaint issues investigated were upheld.
The Advertising Standards Authority received 31 complaints about the way information was related to the public, most notably around use of the NHS name/logo. The ASA ruled that ads were likely to mislead as they falsely implied that their service was part of the NHS.

At the time it was seen by the complainants, the web page included the Push Doctor and NHS logos side-by-side at the top of the page; the web page also included various statements referring to NHS-trained doctors and the service available…..We considered that consumers who did visit that web page were unlikely to understand from its contents that the Push Doctor service/app was not an NHS service.(Advertising Standards Authority, 11th April 2018)

As a response to the ASA’s report Push Doctor changed the terminology from “NHS Doctor” to “NHS accredited Doctor” however they did not agree that asserting their employees were NHS GPs was misleading to the public. Push Doctor admitted that they used the word “NHS” as it engendered trust in consumers.

…we considered that consumer expectations around payment for healthcare and a company’s links to the NHS were likely to be strongly affected by their level of recognition of a company and its position as a private healthcare provider, as well as the particular context and content of ads for its services. (Advertising Standards Authority, 11th April 2018)

They also stated that having an online consultation offered “better customer service” which ultimately says a great deal about how private companies like this view patients.
The drive towards ‘app-based medicine’ is a prominent theme in NHS England’s presentation of the impossible – namely the challenge to deliver excellent health care with £22bn of annual underfunding by 2020/21. It is fundamentally wrong to replace good and safe clinical consultation with app-based encounters – new technologies should support clinical staff not replace them. The underfunding of the NHS is at crisis level and must not be clouded by private or public adventures with misleading claims.
Indeed, in launching the new profit driven initiatives the CQC found Push Doctor to be failing in not providing safe effective or well-led services including issues with prescribing and keeping accurate and complete records. This has since been addressed but further highlights the potential for private companies to deliver an inferior service when profit comes before patients.

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  1. When does misrepresenting the truth become illegal these days. Seems to depend who you are. Will Push Doctors be called to account? Can we make sure they are? Any lawyers in our ranks?

    • Since the launch of Push Doctor I have contacted all relevant sources at the exposure this organisation is operating under the NHS logo. I am now pleased to state that Push Doctor have been made to remove the NHS England logo from their site on the instruction of NHS England. I have personally been informed of this.

  2. The deception of making out they are an NHS service should be a central part of any complaint to the ASA. The ASA is concerned about misleading claims. The ad is clearly misleading.

    • Most GPs are contracted to the NHS. There are some private GPs but they are clearly identifiable as such. The practices you find when looking, for example, at NHS Choices are all NHS GP practices. They are subject to an NHS contract detailing what services they should provide to patients and in what way they should be provided. They are subject to inspection to ensure they are providing the correct services in a safe and effective way. They are not allowed to charge for the provision of NHS services. Practices contracted to the NHS have a close relationship with the NHS and are counted as “NHS bodies”. GPs are quasi employees of the NHS as they are part of the NHS pension scheme and have to be approved by the NHS to provide NHS services (be on the performer’s list) and are subject to NHS regulations about the way they work and provide services. If a practice wants to change the partners in the practice it has to inform and get approval from the NHS management bods that commission GP services. In addition GPs cannot sell their practices as their practice is not considered to “belong” to them as a business. And GPs are not allowed to advertise. (They are only allowed to publish purely factual statements about their services.) So, not at all like Push Doctor which is a private service masquerading as an NHS one.

  3. Thank you so much! Brilliant. Get in touch to explain more via About us/Contacts or bottom of each page. Thanks for letting us know
    Tony O’Sullivan (co-chair)

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