Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

ADHD charities question impartiality of BBC documentary on private assessments

A number of charities have slammed a recent BBC documentary that examined private assessments for the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The programme, Private ADHD Clinics Exposed, followed undercover reporter Rory Carson as he attended private ADHD clinics suspected of inappropriately diagnosing the neurodevelopmental disorder.

The Panorama investigation found that although the NHS is paying for thousands of patients to go to private clinics for assessments, clinics carried out only limited mental health assessments of patients.

In addition, powerful drugs were prescribed for long-term use, without advice on possible serious side effects or proper consideration of patients’ medical history. It said that any patients posting negative reviews were also threatened with legal action.

However, ADHDadultUK, a charity and peer support group for adults with ADHD, believes the BBC have broken the editorial guidelines, including a guideline that states to always consider the needs of vulnerable groups.

It said that the approach that Panorama took has caused damage to the ADHD community and adds to the public myth and stigma that it is ‘easy to get a diagnosis of ADHD’.

The charity added: “Our community already faces significant societal and internal stigma, and this program will not improve this. The NHS, which is under incredible pressure for resources, does not currently have the resources to meet the demand for ADHD diagnosis. in some areas of the UK, where right to choose does not exist, desperate people have to make the decision ‘do I go private?’ As for some, waiting for five years for an assessment is not just unacceptable, it is unbearable.”

Sensationalist piece of television journalism

The ADHD Foundation has also criticised the programme makers for not engaging with patient-led groups and instead opting to “broadcast a poorly researched, sensationalist piece of television journalism”.

It said that the programme focused on a niche issue whilst completely ignoring the broader context, including why there has been a rapid growth in private providers. The Panorama team also failed to acknowledge that the majority of private providers are also employed by the NHS but offer this private service in addition to their NHS salaries.

The charity added: “Some private providers do provide quality service. We believe the unscrupulous behaviour of some people/organisations in the private sector should be challenged, but it must also be contextualised within the wider environment of our health services. Not doing so irresponsibly risks discrediting the entire private sector, jeopardising patients’ access to NHS Shared Care Agreements with their GP.”

ADHD diagnoses should be done by qualified healthcare professionals

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises that a ‘diagnosis of ADHD should only be made by a specialist psychiatrist, paediatrician or other appropriately qualified healthcare professional with training and expertise in the diagnosis of ADHD.’

This assessment should include a discussion of the patient’s symptoms, a full review of their mental health history and consideration of information about the patient that has been supplied by people who know them. Healthcare professionals cannot prescribe medication safely without the information that is gathered by a proper assessment.

Yet, more than half of new adult diagnoses are currently given by private providers due to wait times and lack of capacity in the NHS.

In response to the programme, the Royal College of Psychiatrists said that people who think they might have ADHD should contact their GP who will be able to refer them to a specialist ADHD service. Yet it acknowledged that the huge gap in NHS resources has to be addressed.

Spokesperson Dr Mike Smith, a specialist consultant psychiatrist in ADHD from Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I feel very sympathetic for all those people who are seeking help for potentially undiagnosed ADHD due to the extremely long NHS waiting times.

“I see many people in my clinics who’ve received a diagnosis from a private provider that we cannot accept due to concerns about quality. This is heartbreaking as I must tell them we cannot accept their diagnosis and they must be reassessed. This must change.

“We recognise that people desperately want to get seen, treated and move on with their lives, and some are willing to pay rather than wait. However, seeking help from providers who are not producing comprehensive assessment reports often means further pain for them.”

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