Questions have been raised about private clinic assessments for ADHD after an investigation found patients were being diagnosed based on poor-quality online checks.
An undercover reporter working for BBC’s Panorama was diagnosed as having ADHD by three private clinics after assessments over video calls, each costing between £700 and £1,100.
Yet a more detailed face-to-face NHS assessment found he did not have the condition, the programme makers said.
As part of the investigation, Panorama said it had spoken to dozens of patients and whistleblowers about rushed and poor-quality assessments at some private clinics.
The three named by the programme were Harley Psychiatrists, ADHD Direct and ADHD 360 all of whom diagnosed the undercover reporter with the condition. In response to the BBC, they all said they do thorough assessments and follow national guidelines.
In addition to limited mental health assessments, the investigation also found long-term prescribing of ‘powerful drugs’ without advice on serious side effects or proper consideration of patients’ medical history.
And they found evidence that patients posting negative reviews had been threatened with legal action.
Due to lengthy waiting lists, the NHS is paying for thousands of patients to go to private clinics for assessments, Panorama added.
Responding to the findings, consultant psychiatrist Dr Mike Smith, who leads a specialist NHS ADHD service and assessed the undercover reporter in a three-hour appointment, said he was seriously concerned about the number of people who might ‘potentially have received an incorrect diagnosis and been started on medications inappropriately’.
‘The scale is massive,’ he said.
GPs reacting to the story on social media said they were sadly unsurprised by the findings with clinics with vested interest filling demand caused by long NHS waiting lists.
Figures show years of steady increases in prescribing but steeper rises since 2021.
A Pulse investigation at the start of 2022 found private health care was thriving as NHS waiting lists grew and GPs at the time raised particular concerns about ADHD with respect to shared-care arrangements for ongoing prescribing of medications.
Two-thirds of GPs have told Pulse they are having to provide specialist mental health support beyond their competence which includes initiating patients on ADHD medication.