The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled that GP at Hand ads were misleading because they failed to make clear that patients would have to quit their existing practice to sign up.
GP at Hand ads were also misleading because they gave the impression that people could sign up irrespective of where they lived, and because they claimed patients could 'sign up in three minutes' when in fact some patients waited 'a week or more' before they were registered.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'The BMA has been vocal in its concerns about GP at Hand from the outset, and we are glad that someone is finally taking action and censuring the provider for the dubious way it operates.
'Not only does GP at Hand exploit out-of-area arrangements and cherry-pick healthy, young patients, but it has done so without being clear with the public from the beginning that by using the service they will be deregistering from their own GP.
'As the ASA ruling notes, patients are likely to assume this is a quick, convenient service that works in conjunction with their own GP, but the reality is far from this. By signing up with GP at Hand, patients will lose out on all of the advantages of being registered with a local practice – primarily face-to-face appointments with a familiar doctor who has full access to their medical record and can provide holistic, person-centred care from within the community.
'Local practices must therefore be supported in embracing technology and providing online consultations to their own patients. GPs are not anti-tech – but innovation must not come at the expense of the high-quality, expert care being provided to patients in surgeries up and down the country.'
The ASA said posters featuring the misleading claims appeared on London Underground trains between November 2017 and February 2018.
However, a GP at Hand spokesperson said its claim that patients could see an NHS-registered GP ‘in minutes, for free, 24/7’ was 'indeed something you can do once you’ve registered as a GP at Hand member'.
The spokesperson added: 'The sign-up process and eligibility criteria are clearly explained in detail via our app and website.
'Insurance advertisements, for example, are not required to specify that prospective policy holders need to "register" or "apply" in order to obtain cover,' the spokesperson said. 'We think the process of "registering" is self-evident and clearly understood by the public. The ASA took a different view, however.'
GP at Hand has made 'some minor changes' to its advertising to make 'the sign-up process and eligibility criteria even clearer'.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said last month that GP at Hand should be available across England - but GP leaders warned that a national rollout of the service risked destabilising existing practices. In London, the service - which excludes some patients with complex needs - has attracted thousands of predominantly young patients.