Commissioning.GP investigated…

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Have you been contacted by a company called Commissioning.GP? Perhaps they convinced you to take them up on their offer. Maybe you sent them packing – or perhaps you’ve never heard of them.
We first became aware of Commissioning.GP when a fellow psychotherapist raised the issue in an online forum, and we decided to carry out our own research. We sought feedback from many therapists, and spoke to Associations for their thoughts. We soon realised that this company was wholly failing to deliver on its claims. Some therapists have even described the company’s practices as a ‘scam’.
In this article we hope to shed light on Commissioning.GP, explain its offering and help therapists who have entered into an arrangement with the company seek some redress.

Commissioning.GP in a nutshell

Commissioning.GP claims to be a register used by GPs to find psychotherapists and counsellors for patient referrals. Many therapists have been approached via cold calling, often feeling that they have been subjected to aggressive sales techniques and pressure selling. Some therapists say they have received calls multiple times a day, attempting to sign them up to the register with promises of increasing the number of referrals they will receive.
Prices quoted for signing-up to this online register have ranged from £200 to £300, with advertising space in the website’s newsletter for an additional fee. However, it seems that, on receiving their login details, therapists have been unable to view or add any details to their profiles. Emails from the company are very persuasive, often including legitimate details about NHS Commissioning and government legislation. Some therapists’ local GPs have confirmed that they have never used or even heard of the service.
So – is this a genuine business offering and is it really used by GPs?

The Commissioning.GP website

At first glance, the website appears very professional and legitimate, containing blogs, forums, search bars for education and training institutes, and pages of information with links to external sites about the NHS Commissioning initiative and medical resources. There is also a counter, indicating how many GPs have viewed the website today and in the last two weeks, and as you would expect from almost any business these days, they can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.
However, on closer inspection, all of the forum threads are empty (with the exception of several posts asking the website owners to comment on whether or not the service is a scam!), and clicking on a number of links in the navigation bar produces the same page and content. As login details are required in order to view the profiles of any therapist registered with the website, it is impossible to comment on what any GP looking at the site may see.

How reliable is the register?

It is important to note that no one we have spoken to who signed up for the register was asked to provide any proof of their qualifications, and that the length of time between making the payment and signing the contract was very short (again, not allowing time for the service to check anyone’s accreditations).
It stands to reason that even if the company is genuine, no GP would be likely to use the register to source therapists, as the register itself is no indication of how qualified a therapist might be.

One practice’s experience

In the interest of gaining further insight from members of the Private Practice Hub community, we posted a thread on our LinkedIn group. We received a reply from the director of Counselling Works in Milton Keynes, with details of their experience:
“The person we spoke to from Commissioning.gp gave the impression that she was representing an official GP commissioning group. At no time did she tell us it was a private company. The name is constructed so that it appears to have an official status as part of the new NHS commissioning scheme. 
We paid £238.80 (which included VAT) and eventually managed to get our money back. We did a little more investigation, and found that a GP domain is a national country code top-level domain for Guadeloupe!”

BBC Radio 4 discusses Commissioning.GP

Unfortunately, Counselling Works are not alone in their experience. A recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s “You and Yours” aired in February included a segment discussing Commissioning.GP. For more information, the full programme can (at the time of writing) be listened to here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b053bq4q with the segment starting at 27:14.
During the programme, the experiences of two therapists are discussed, both of whom – like those who contacted Private Practice Hub – experienced cold calls from the online register looking for psychotherapists and counsellors. Both say that once they had paid the signup fee, they were unable to access their profiles or see anyone else’s. They confirm that they struggled to make contact with anyone from Commissioning.GP following payment of the signup fee, including ignored phone calls and emails bouncing back.
One of the therapists featured explains that, “He [the sales caller] said that in each locality they were only taking on five therapists, so that made it sound really lucrative.” This idea of a limited-time offer adds to the overall sense of pressure-selling carried out by this company.
The programme also features Harry Cayton, Chief Executive of the Professional Standards Authority, who outlines the processes followed by legitimate NHS Commissioning registers to ensure that all members are accredited and reliable. In the programme, he confirms that Commissioning.GP have not completed the application process to the Professional Standards Authority, and therefore are not accredited.  We can conclude from this, therefore, that even if the register itself is not directly committing fraud, they are not endorsed by respected associations or institutions as they claim.

Feedback from Associations

We contacted BACP and UKCP to get their thoughts on Commissioning.GP.  BACP stated that although they cannot comment on whether the directory is legitimate or able to deliver on its claims, “GPs are [also] highly unlikely to use directories to make direct private referrals to counsellors as this would be considered a recommendation and there is no guarantee of quality of care.” The representative also wrote that:
“We remain concerned and continue to gather evidence on this organisation. One member has taken legal advice and I believe is interested in organising a group of members together to take legal action on personal financial losses. We’ll be facilitating this and publishing a letter in an upcoming edition of our Therapy Today.”
Similarly, a statement from UKCP said that, while they cannot comment on the status of the website:
“Several members have contacted UKCP about the commissioning.gp approach, and none of them have been positive. Concerns raised by members include aggressive sales tactics and suggestions that they have been specially selected to be on an exclusive register. There is no evidence that this claim is true.”

In summary

There is clear evidence to suggest that Commissioning.GP is misrepresenting its services and not delivering on its claims. We haven’t been able to find a single therapist who is satisfied with the service they have received.
The sales method used – namely cold calling – is not one therapists would come across with NHS endorsed registers, and this register is indeed not endorsed by the NHS. There are also inconsistencies in the offers made to therapists. For example, in the BBC4 “You and Yours” programme, one of the therapists noted that the contract she received stated that once she received her password, there was no refund. In a letter published more recently in Therapy Today, a therapist who had been approached by the service and was unsure of its legitimacy writes that the company offers a refund of the first year’s payment if she failed to receive at least 100 referrals from GP’s within the year:
(http://www.therapytoday.net/article/show/4772/commissioninggp-website-query/).
Similarly, everyone who has come forward to Private Practice Hub with their experiences have been quoted varying prices for the same service.  The lack of checks carried out by Commissioning.GP in regards to the qualifications held by the therapists they register is also concerning, as it means that they are making no attempts to ensure the level of care offered by therapists is to the expected standards. Finally, it is highly unlikely that GP’s would use such a register, as it is no indication of the level of treatment a patient might receive.
With high levels of competition both on and off line, it is tempting to sign up for anything that could benefit a business. However, if you are approached by any company that you have doubts about, it is always best to simply decline in the first instance, so that you can carry out your own research. For reliable information about NHS Commissioning, there are useful resources available on the BACP website: www.bacp.co.uk/commissioning.

Need some advice?

For those who have paid money to Commissioning.GP (or any similar organisation) and would like a refund, Counselling Works provided us with the following information:
“Once we realised the situation, we sent a recorded delivery ‘letter before action’ within the same week demanding our money back under the legal cooling off period. We got our money back a month later. Note that if necessary it is relatively easy to raise action in the County Court online. The cost is £60 (which can be added to your claim), and you fill in one simple page online. Go to www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/web/mcol/welcome and raise the action against the defendant who is given an opportunity to respond. A judge then makes a decision. You can track the progress of your claim online.”
If you feel that you have been a victim of fraud, you may report the incident online using the following link: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/