Patient Brokering and Referral Agencies

Selling Patients

In the course of searching for addiction treatment, you or your family member may visit one of several websites claiming to offer independent and free advice about rehab clinics. These privately-owned companies are known as ‘referral agents’ and they collect a large proportion of the patients’ treatment fee as commission for referring patients.

Patient brokering websites usually advertise an assessment and advice helpline. These websites occupy many of the first results on internet searches about addiction treatment. They claim to offer independent advice about treatment options however they do not inform the caller that they charge very high commissions in order to recommend or refer to a specific treatment centre. They also share your data around their 3rd party clinics, usually without informing you that they will do so. At present, this is an unregulated and unaccountable industry and therefore open to abuses. We feel that using these agencies turns patients into commodities who are effectively brokered from agencies to treatment centres.

Patients and family members using third-party referral websites need to understand that they are engaging with profit-making companies, who only work with a limited number of treatment services, and who negotiate different referral fees with different treatment centres.

This can lead to patients being recommended a rehab that pays the most money to the website. Patients and family members are not receiving independent and impartial advice and are unaware that money is changing hands.

In some cases, patient brokers are stakeholders in clinics or vice-versa. This results in referral agencies recommending their own treatment services, without this being made clear to the patient or other caller.

The men and women who are affected by addiction, whether as patients or as family members, are vulnerable people suffering from their condition. Many will be affected by more than one medical condition and may require expert help and protection.

Over the course of its 35-year history, Castle Craig has advocated against the place of unregulated referral agencies in the industry, and as our concerns about the practices, the ethics and the partiality of these services have grown, we refuse to work with any of the referral agencies currently operating in the United Kingdom.

Bed Fees & Clinical Referrals Fees

Castle Craig Hospital has never paid bed fees or referral fees to doctors whose patients have been referred into our care. Patients admitted to Castle Craig are treated under the care of our own team of consultant psychiatrists.

Castle Craig does not pay referral fees for patients who have been recommended to our addiction treatment facility by a clinician or counsellor who is involved in the care of a patient. In specific cases, we may reimburse a referring clinician for relevant work undertaken as part of the patient’s treatment programme. This will only be done with the patient’s informed consent.

Referring clinicians are not allowed to receive referral fees, and private hospital operators are not allowed to pay fees to them. This has been confirmed by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and is the law. Following CMA clarification on this point, Castle Craig considers centres that provide psychiatric hospital care to be private hospital operators, and this includes residential rehab clinics employing medical staff.

The General Medical Council (GMC) has advised that doctors in senior positions who are aware of referral fees being paid at their place of work, could have questions raised about their own probity and integrity. This would be the case especially where they haven’t raised any concerns or objections, or there is no record of them doing so.

The GMC advise doctors to raise formal objections about this type of practice and to contact their defence body for advice if they are concerned about being implicated in practices that conflict with professional standards or the law.