NHS

Senior NHS clinicians have called for the gambling industry to face a new multi million-pound statutory levy to fund the prevention and treatment of research, education and treatment programmes.

Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, and Dr Matt Gaskell, clinical lead for the NHS Northern Gambling Service, lead the call to establish an independent health board to oversee such a move.

Revealing the plans in a paper for think tank Social Market Foundation, it is further recommended that the board should be led by the Department of Health and not the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The paper argues: “The current voluntary system has no integration of NHS services, no consistency in funding decisions, no independent evaluation of long-term impact or regulation via the Care Quality Commission, no coordinated oversight from research councils over research into harm, and serious questions have been asked about the independence of this voluntary system from the influence of the gambling industry.

“Furthermore, decisions about the funding of healthcare services are not overseen by experts at the Department of Health and Social Care, as would be expected, but rather officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.”

The proposals call for a statutory levy, drawn from the revenues of the industry, to be established to fund the prevention, research, education, treatment, and long-term reduction of gambling-related harm, with a goal of halving such related harms over five years. 

A joint advisory board would be led by the Department of Health and Social Care, but would act in consultation with academics, clinicians, independent service providers, research councils, the Gambling Commission and its advisory board, and stakeholders from the DCMS and the Department for Education.

The new board should carry out a full assessment of the evidence on gambling harm and set the level of the levy accordingly, the paper says. 

Dr James Noyes, Senior Fellow at the SMF and co-author of the paper, commented: “In 2020, a House of Lords Select Committee report stated that it is ‘beyond belief’ that DCMS has steadfastly refused to introduce a statutory levy on the gambling industry. Yet two years on, we have still not seen any progress. 

“This is despite the fact that dozens of leading clinicians, academics, and parliamentarians have called for an end to the current voluntary arrangement between DCMS, GambleAware, and the gambling industry.

“The government’s benchmark of success for the voluntary system has been undermined by the fact that the industry reneges on its own funding pledges. No system which relies on the good will of the industry can be called truly independent. The current system is broken, and lacks consistency, transparency, and accountability. 

“The Gambling Act review white paper is a unique opportunity to fix this broken system and put harm prevention and treatment where it belongs: under the leadership of the Department of Health and Social Care, funded through a proper statutory framework.”