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Online GP service investigated by NHS England

A private online GP service is being investigated by NHS England over possible misuse of the NHS logo, GPonline has learned.

Online GP service (Photo: iStock)
Online GP service (Photo: iStock)

The £20-per-consultation service is already being investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following complaints, including from a number of GP leaders.

GP members of Doctors in Unite have said Push Doctor’s adverts were ‘misleading’ because they failed to mention that their service was private and referred to their GPs as ‘NHS doctors’.

Now, following questions raised by GPonline, NHS England has launched its own investigation into the Manchester-based firm’s use of the NHS name and logo on its website.

NHS logo

In a section of the Push Doctor website called ‘NHS’ the firm’s own logo appeared side-by-side with the blue NHS lozenge. The site informed customers: ‘All of our doctors are NHS trained and can treat almost everything your own GP can’.

The NHS strictly controls the use of its name and logo to protect public trust in services. NHS England guidelines say that third party organisations can only use the logo in relation to NHS services.

An NHS England spokesman told GPonline: ‘The NHS name and logo generate high levels of trust and reassurance among patients and the public. Therefore, their use is strictly controlled and unauthorised use or adaptation of the NHS trademarks and copyright is taken very seriously. This case will be investigated and appropriate action taken if required.’

But a spokesman for Push Doctor said: 'We take trademark issues seriously and believe we have all relevant permissions.'

However, after GPonline contacted Push Doctor about the NHS England investigation the NHS page of its website was changed to refer to itself as an NHS-commissioned technology provider.

In a letter to the press earlier this month GP members of the Doctors in Unite union said they were ‘disturbed’ by posters on the London Underground for Push Doctor, which offer access to 'an NHS GP whenever you want’.

Push Doctor's website says customers can access a GP online within six minutes between 6am and 11pm 365 days a year. The service offers prescriptions, child consultations, sick notes, referrals and other services.

Petition

A petition set up by the campaigning group 38 Degrees calling on the ASA to investigate the ads has been signed by almost 83,000 people.

The petition draws attention to a CQC report on the Push Doctor service, which found it was 'not providing safe, effective or well-led services', although its service was 'caring and responsive'.

The June 2017 report found high-risk drugs had been prescribed without correct monitoring and tests as well as inappropriate prescribing. The CQC also criticised the Manchester-based provider’s IT systems and record keeping.

The company said at the time of the report that it disputed some of the findings.

Dr Jackie Applebee, who represents Doctors in Unite on the GPC, told GPonline that services offering online, private access to GPs were a ‘slippery slope towards a two-tier GP service’.

‘As more GPs opt to work in these private services it leaves even less of us to man the teetering NHS service, leading to a downward spiral,' she said.

She said it was not acceptable for Push Doctor to tell patients that 'you can see an NHS doctor' through the service.

Push Doctor CEO Eren Ozagir said earlier this month: ‘We are aware of the online petition regarding our July advertisements. We want to make it clear that we wholeheartedly support the NHS and, like them, are working diligently to provide great healthcare to people in every part of the country, in the most convenient, safe and easy-to-access way possible.'

He added: ‘GPs on the Push Doctor platform are on the NHS performers list. We list our costs clearly on the front page of our website and within the app.’

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