GP wins battle to ban 'misleading' NHS choices ad
By Steve Nowottny
An NHS advertisement trumpeting the Government's flagship choice policy has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority – after a GP successfully claimed it was misleading.
The authority ruled a campaign in the regional press launched by NHS North East, claiming patients could ‘choose not only the date and time of your first appointment, but also which hospital you go to' was not backed up by evidence.
It ruled that the advertisement should not appear again in its current form, after the unnamed GP complained to the Advertising Standard Authority that its claims could not be substantiated.
The GP argued that in their own experience ‘it was not always possible for patients to book an appointment at their chosen hospital'.
The authority concluded: ‘We noted that NHS North East had not provided evidence that in practice most patients were able to exercise choice of place, date and time for non-emergency and planned hospital referrals. We therefore considered the ad could mislead readers.'
It comes as an embarrassing blow for the Department of Health, which said it was ‘baffled' by the ruling.
The DH is currently promoting patients' right to choice through a national advertising campaign, with ‘Life Channel' broadcasts in more than 4,000 surgeries and a targeted marketing campaign in 26 PCTs featuring stands and trailers outside supermarkets.
NHS North East said it was ‘disappointed'.
A DH spokesperson: "We are baffled by this ruling and will be taking the matter up with the ASA. People in England have been able to choose where they are treated for more than a year now and that became a legal right this month. In most cases that will include the date and time of appointments.'
Dr Jane Lothian, secretary of Northumberland LMC, said: ‘We have a very wide geographic area so the argument we have is there is no true choice. Choice for patients means going maybe 100 miles – so in theory we can offer people choice but in reality it's a geographical thing.'
It comes as the DH provoked controversy by hailing Choose and Book as one of the success stories of the National Programme for IT.
Speaking at the Healthcare Computing 2009 conference in Harrogate, Christine Connelly, the DH's chief information officer, said Choose and Book could act as a role-model for other parts of the National Programme for IT, which has suffered big delays in the acute sector.
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