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Babylon, A Private Health Care Company, Sponsored A Newspaper Series That Included An Interview With The Health Secretary

Matt Hancock discussed the benefits of tech in the NHS in an interview that appeared as part of a series of health stories sponsored by Babylon.

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Evening Standard/Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images

An interview with health secretary Matt Hancock discussing the merits of tech in the NHS was published in an Evening Standard supplement paid for by private health company Babylon.

The Babylon app uses artificial intelligence to help diagnose illnesses, as well as allowing patients to access GPs via smartphones and tablets, and is also contracted to provide digital GP appointments via the NHS's GP at Hand service.

Hancock has been vocal about improving digital services in the NHS since taking on the role of health secretary. Part of the interview describes Hancock "chuckling" as he reveals that he has "become known for using this GP at Hand app".

He also goes on to address criticism that’s been levelled at the NHS’s partnership with Babylon, as patients are required to relinquish their place at their local GP in order to sign up to GP at Hand, which doctors claim negatively impacts their funding.

The interview appeared as part of a “Future London” supplement in print and as an individual article online. Both carried the tagline “in association with Babylon”, alongside the company’s logo.

Evening Standard

According to the Evening Standard’s commercial content guidelines, content “in association” with a brand “has been paid for by an advertiser, but it is controlled by the Evening Standard’s editorial staff".

BuzzFeed News understands that the Department of Health was not aware that the interview with Hancock would appear as part of the Babylon-sponsored series prior to publication.

But a spokesperson for the Evening Standard told BuzzFeed News that while the article was included in health content sponsored by Babylon, the interview remained independent.

"The article is not sponsored,” they said. "There is a series of projects that the Evening Standard has launched under Future London, including health, and the health subject is indeed sponsored by Babylon.

"The individual articles are absolute total editorial initiatives, editorial standards, editorial control with no influence on these by the advertiser.”

Shortly after BuzzFeed News spoke to the Evening Standard, the Babylon branding was removed from the online version of the article.

It’s difficult to know which element of this to take issue with; I’ll settle on the dangerous blurring of @MattHancock’s personal use of a service in a sponsored feature with what an SoS endorses in an evidence-based assessment of what is best for the NHS. This is embarrassing. https://t.co/nTSWYDcOSH

When the interview with Hancock was published, doctors tweeted concerns over Babylon’s logo appearing alongside an interview with Hancock, both in print and online.

“Matt Hancock collaborating with and promoting a private healthcare provider as an alternative to the NHS in a national newspaper would be a clear conflict of interest,” Ben White, an NHS doctor and activist, told BuzzFeed News.

"His links to Babylon and promotion of the brand should be investigated."

CORRECTION

This article was edited to remove a misinterpretation of the Evening Standard's advertising guidelines.


Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Laura Silver at laura.silver@buzzfeed.com.

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