Website used 'fear' of ill-health

NHSA private health insurance comparison website has been ordered to remove negative references to the NHS used as an "appeal to fear" to sell the policies. included a page headed "Your 3-Step Guide to Avoid the NHS Crisis," and said: "The most recent report by NHS England medical director, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, highlighted the staggering 13,000 deaths that occurred between just 14 NHS sites since 2005.

The ad continued: "This awful statistic, he believes, is likely to have been a tragic consequence of negligence which could have been easily avoided. It's been shown that 7.2 million people in the UK alone have turned to health insurance to provide the peace-of-mind they need for their health."

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 54 complaints that the "13,000 deaths" claim and references to the Keogh Review misrepresented the report, while 17 people believed the ad used an appeal to fear to sell private health insurance.

ESmart Media, trading as Best Medical Cover, said they took the 13,000 figure from various articles in leading UK newspapers, but added that they understood the number was now disputed and they would not refer to it in future.

But they believed that pointing out documented examples of poor NHS treatment was important for the public, and concerns about such risks were a valid and justifiable reason to consider alternative methods of financing medical care.

The ASA found that eSmart had based its claims on press reports rather than the actual review, adding that the 13,000 figure had since been disputed and did not accurately represent the contents of the report.

The ASA acknowledged that consumers might consider private health insurance for reasons including concerns about the standard of NHS care, and that marketers were entitled to refer to this as long as they did not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason.

But it added: "We considered that the references to excess deaths, an "NHS Crisis" and that health insurance could "save your life!" and the overall impression of the ad used an appeal to fear to sell private health insurance and that it was not justified to do so."

The ASA ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form, adding: "We told eSmart Media to ensure they held robust substantiation to support claims in their ads, and to ensure that any references to the NHS did not use an appeal to fear."