In a controversial move that could be likened to cleaning house—or cutting of its nose to spite its face—the NHS has confirmed that it will henceforth reject millions of pounds in funding from the gambling sector to help co-finance its RET—research, education, treatment–programmes in gambling addiction clinics across the nation.
Taking a farewell swipe at the gambling industry, which has pumped millions of pounds of funding into the rehabilitation of addicts and responsible gambling programmes, Claire Murdoch, NHS England Mental Health Director, said:
“It is also absolutely right that the NHS now funds these clinics independently, recognising the harmful effects this addiction can have on the nation’s mental health, and that predatory tactics from gambling companies are part of the problem, not the solution.”
“The move must have come as a bitter blow for GambleAware,” one highly placed source in the Responsible Gambling community told iGamingFuture.
It was a view that GambleAware—founded in 2002 and perhaps the UK’s leading problem gambling charity—declined to endorse.
Only last April the charity unveiled a new five-year organisational strategy.
Now almost a year to the day–ironically on this April Fool’s Day–it will be given the NHS order of the boot.
GambleAware, nevertheless, stressed their Chief Executive Zoë Osmond, is determined to maintain a collaborative relationship with NHS England.
And Murdoch was gracious enough to concede, in a letter written to Osmond, that the NHS was “very grateful to GambleAware for the funding that you have provided over the last three years, which has allowed us to roll out treatment services faster than would have otherwise been possible.”
Cutting the Cord
So what went wrong with this seemingly win-win relationship? And why have NHS England severed the umbilical cord?
A recent massive injection of £2.3 billion (US$3.12bn/€2.74bn) of government cash for spiralling Covid-era mental health problems–also covering treatment for people with serious gambling issues–may be part of the explanation.
And the decision has been “heavily influenced by patients who have previously expressed concern about using services paid for directly by [the gambling] industry,” Murdoch explained in her letter.
“Additionally, our clinicians feel there are conflicts of interest in their clinics being part-funded by resources from the gambling industry.
“Gambling treatment services do not prevent people from being harmed in the first place, and we would like to see the industry take firm action so that people do not need to seek help from the NHS.
“We hope that you will continue to join us in calling for the gambling industry to be more heavily regulated and taxed to generate public funding to address gambling harms.”
When contacted by iGaming Future, GambleAware–which received almost £9 million (US$12.21m/€10.75m) in funding from the regulatory UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) between March 2019 and April 2020–refuted charges that it was an acolyte of the betting industry.
“[We have] robust governance processes in place to ensure the gambling industry has absolutely no influence over any of our work,” CE Zoë Osmond told us in a statement.
“We are also accountable to the Charity Commission and the Gambling Commission, which fully endorses the charity’s activity and governance structure, while working to deliver the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms.
“Gambling is a serious public health issue which requires a collaborative approach, involving the third sector and the NHS within a coherent system of care. We look forward to continuing to work with NHSE and supporting them to provide an integrated solution to preventing and treating gambling harm,” said Osmond.
Many people working in the responsible gambling sphere have been shocked by NHS England’s precipitous action.
“This strikes me as throwing the baby out with the bath water and a somewhat extreme reaction,” one leading safe gaming pathfinder, who asked for anonymity, told iGF.
“Surely there are other ways that concerns could be address, especially in a chronically underfunded NHS.”
Apart from the controversial decision to dump GambleAware, NHS England has also announced the opening of two new gambling clinics in Southampton and Stoke-on-Trent — adding to existing clinics in London, Leeds, Manchester and Sunderland, which treated 668 people for gambling addiction between April and December last year, compared to 575 patients over the same period in 2020.
The UK Gambling Commission, meantime, has just released data that strongly suggests that British problem gambling rates have declined from 0.6 per cent to 0.3 per cent.
It’s good news that may come as a measure of compensation and validation for the work of GambleAware and responsible gambling champions everywhere.