A COMPLAINT by a Hagley doctor and others has led advertising watchdogs to rule against a health insurance firm which wrongly accused the NHS of causing 13,000 needless deaths at 14 hospital trusts including the Dudley Group.

Neurologist Dr David Nicholl was among 54 people who complained about the bestmedicalcover.co.uk website, run by eSmart Media based in the British Virgin Islands, which urged people to take out private medical insurance at the height of the hospital deaths probe which saw investigations carried out at 14 Trusts including the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust which runs Russells Hall Hospital.

Dr Nicholl and other complainants argued that the ad wrongly accused the NHS of causing up to 13,000 needless deaths across the 14 sites - a figure reported in numerous national newspapers but not referenced in medical director Sir Bruce Keogh’s official report into hospital care.

Following the complaints, the Advertising Standards Agency concluded the ad breached its code and found it was misleading as it was based on figures obtained from press reports, which were later disputed, rather than information from the Keogh review itself.

The advert, which proclaimed ‘health insurance is no longer a luxury’ and invited readers to follow a 3-Step Guide to Avoid the NHS Crisis, was also found to have used an appeal to fear to sell private health insurance - causing harm and offence.

The ASA ruled the ad must not appear again in its current form.

Bosses at eSmart Media bosses were also ordered in future to robustly substantiate claims in their ads and ensure any references to the NHS do not use an appeal to fear.

Dr Nicholl described the ad as a “very cynical attempt to scaremonger and frighten people unnecessarily” and he added: “It shows how people can mis-use statistics to essentially screw money out of others “I’m very impressed with the ASA – they’ve obviously dealt with it very sensibly.”