The Advertisement Standards Agency (ASA) has banned a Bupa TV advert on the grounds that it implied there was a higher chance of survival for cancer patients who received private healthcare.
The watchdog had received twenty-five complaints which pointed out that the ad was "misleading."
The ad featured a voiceover which said: "Growing up my family always had Bupa health insurance. It probably saved my life. At 27 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Straight away a specialist Bupa team were there for me. They found a hospital to be near mum and dad. The consultant suggested Tomotherapy, an advanced treatment. That was seven years ago and Bupa's still here for me today".
Throughout the ad was on-screen text that stated "Specialist support teams, access to latest proven drugs and treatments, supporting you through your treatment".
The ASA ruling said: "While we acknowledged that the claim "It probably saved my life" was the customer's opinion on the services they had received from Bupa, we considered it was a very prominent claim."
ASA highlighted Bupa's onscreen text - highlighting issues with Bupa's promotion of access to the latest drugs.
The watchdog said: "With regard to the latter statement, we acknowledged that Bupa had referred to the Cancer Drugs Fund, which we understood was money the government had set aside to pay for cancer drugs that had not been approved by NICE and were not available within the NHS.
"We noted that if NHS patients requested funding for a cancer drug that did not appear on the approved CDF list they faced the possibility of being denied that form of treatment, whereas Bupa customers would have access to all the drugs that appeared on the list, including those that were not approved.
"Although we acknowledged the ad's references to the benefits of the services the advertiser offered, we considered that they were made in conjunction with the customer's prominent claim "It probably saved my life".
"They suggested that Bupa's services for cancer patients were superior in those respects to those offered by the NHS or other providers, and that cancer patients who received private healthcare through Bupa consequentially had a better chance of survival."
ASA added: "Furthermore, although we acknowledged that one of Bupa's hospitals remained the only private hospital in the country to offer Tomotherapy for cancer patients, we understood that it was currently available as a radiotherapy treatment under the NHS.
"Therefore, we concluded that the ad implied that there was a higher chance of survival for cancer patients who received treatment through the advertiser and because that was not the case, the ad was likely to mislead consumers."
In the ruling, it showed that Bupa believed that the ad did not imply that there was a higher chance of survival for cancer patients who received private healthcare.
The insurer said the ad was based on a customer's testimonial who shared their personal experience of Bupa's support following their diagnosis of cancer seven years ago.
Regarding the on-screen text "access to latest proven drugs and treatments", Bupa stated that they offered a range of clinically proven cancer drugs that were not provided as standard treatment on the NHS nor by every private healthcare provider.
At the time the patient received their initial treatment, Tomotherapy was an advanced treatment that had first been made available in the UK in 2006 at Bupa Cromwell Hospital, and was part of the customer's successful treatment and recovery.
It remained the only private hospital in the country to offer this type of treatment for cancer patients, Bupa said.
Bupa also stated that the ad did not draw any direct comparisons with the NHS or other private medical providers.
In a statement to COVER, Saj Arshad, marketing, sales and strategy director of Bupa UK said: "We are disappointed that the ASA have ruled against us and upheld the complaint. The experience our customer Lisa Mann shared in the advert was a true representation of the treatment and support she received and highlights what our customers can expect.
"We take the accuracy of our advertising seriously, and operate strong review processes to meet both ASA and FCA standards. We will discontinue use of the advert in its current form, in line with the ASA ruling.
"We know from customer insight that people buy health insurance to cover against unexpected illness and injuries. This is why we developed the ad to show a real customer's experience as a representation of our service instead of focusing on a specific treatment."
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