Adverts for online pharmacy ailed by ASA ruling

July 2018

Adverts, for online pharmacist Pharmacy2U, appearing on Twitter and TV claiming that managing repeat prescriptions online could save the NHS “over £300 million a year on prescription costs” have been found by the ASA to be misleading and unsubstantiated.

Background

The Pharmacy2U adverts in question stated that “over 40%” of the public use repeat prescription medicines, with “over £800 million dispensed every year. Costing the NHS over £7 billion” and managing repeat prescriptions online would “save…the NHS over £300 million a year”, being “better for the NHS”.

Complaints were brought against these claims, by the National Pharmacy Association and 24 members of the public, on the basis they were misleading and could not be substantiated.

Pharmacy2U provided a calculation to support their savings claim, which projected an annual saving of over £300 million if all pharmacies charged the NHS the same dispensing rate as Pharmacy2U. Pharmacy2U also relied on previous NHS approval of the statement “Most of the time, it’s cheaper for the NHS to partner with Pharmacy2U, so we save the NHS money” for a direct mailer.

Assessment

Whilst the ASA acknowledged the above NHS approved statement, it was less specific than the current £300 million savings claim.

The ASA considered that consumers would understand the adverts to claim the NHS would save “over £300 million” if a significant proportion of the population switched to online repeat prescriptions services, which would be “better for the NHS”. The ASA therefore assessed whether the evidence provided by Pharmacy2U would substantiate the claims as interpreted by the customers.

The ASA acknowledged Pharmacy2U could save the NHS money, being based in a single location. The calculation based on the annual savings if all pharmacies were paid the same rate as Pharmacy2U was therefore presently an unrealistic and unlikely scenario as 99% of NHS prescriptions are still dispensed by high street pharmacies.

A scenario where the NHS paid all other pharmacies the same rate as Pharmacy2U would depend on many factors changing in the UK. The ASA considered that the savings claim in the adverts would however be understood by consumers to be based on a currently realistic scenario. As the projected saving was different in nature to the adverts’ claims, Pharmacy2U did not provide adequate evidence for the savings claims, which were found misleading and unsubstantiated.

As this amounted to a breach of CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation), the ASA ruled that the adverts could no longer appear in their current form and Pharmacy2U must hold actual data to evidence any claims relating to savings generated for the NHS.

Key point

Advertisers should take note that claims regarding savings generated as a result of switching to services such as those provided by the advertiser must be adequately substantiated and must have a basis in a scenario realistic to circumstances current at the time.

This update was prepared by HGF IP Solicitor Maherunesa Khandaker.  If you would like further advice on this or any other matter please contact Maherunesa or your usual HGF representative, alternatively visit our Contact Page to get in touch with your nearest HGF office.

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