Health minister denies endorsing private healthcare app

The Department for Health has refuted claims that its minister appeared in an advertorial to endorse a private healthcare app.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been accused of breaking the ministerial code after appearing to endorse a private healthcare app in an Evening Standard supplement sponsored by the same company.

Labour’s shadow health minister, Justin Madders, has written to the prime minister to demand Mr Hancock be investigated for repeatedly promoting the app Babylon.

According to the Cabinet Office, the complaint is being considered and will be responded to in due course.

A copy of the letter seen by Sky News requests “an urgent investigation into the matter” and raises the concern that the health secretary endorsed the products of a company which is in receipt of NHS funds.

The letter alleges that Mr Hancock could have breached the ministerial code which prohibits ministers from supporting groups which receive government funding.

It also noted that the health secretary claims he has “become known for using this ‘GP at Hand’ app” and suggests that this also brings Mr Hancock into contravention of the code.

“Promoting pay-for-access health products, which Mr Hancock’s comments would appear to amount to, subverts the objective and principles of a National Health Service, free at the point of use and open to all regardless of means,” wrote Mr Madders.

Research by Ofcom found 78% of Brits said they couldn't live without their smartphone
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The health secretary stated he had become known for using the healthcare app

Mr Hancock, formerly the digital secretary, was the first MP to launch a social media app for their constituents and other interested parties earlier this year.

He had spoken publicly about his interest in technological developments and his family’s computer software business which he briefly worked for.

The Evening Standard is currently edited by George Osborne, of whom Mr Hancock was considered to be a keen political ally when both were in parliament.

Babylon is a private healthcare company which sponsored the health-focused supplement in the Evening Standard in which the interview with Mr Hancock appeared.

During the course of the interview, Mr Hancock praised the company’s “GP at Hand” app which allows patients to speak to doctors through video-calls on their phones.

He also listed Babylon as one of the healthcare apps on his own smartphone, previously praised the app as “revolutionary” and spoke at the company’s offices in Chelsea at an event hosted by Mr Parsa – whom Mr Madders describes as a “Conservative Party associate”.

The Department of Health stated: “As the health secretary has made clear in the past, he holds no portfolio for any particular company or brand and regularly champions the benefits of a range of technologies which can improve patient outcomes, free up clinicians’ time and make every pound go further.

“We are working to create a tech ecosystem which allows all innovations to flourish in the NHS, a number of which were highlighted in the article.”

A spokesperson for the Evening Standard told Sky News: “The interview was published as part of the Evening Standard’s Future London project within a supplement focusing on pioneering technology in healthcare. The supplement was sponsored by Babylon.

“The articles in the supplement were not advertorials and the Evening Standard retained full editorial control over them.

“Matt Hancock was approached by our editorial team for an interview following the launch of his policy paper on how technology can be used to build the most advanced healthcare system in the world.

“It is not normal practice for us to discuss branding or presentation of articles with interviewees so Mr Hancock would not have been made aware of these.”

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