Ireland’s HSE “Ignores” Problem Gamblers, Says New Study

distressed woman

A study has found that problem gamblers are being ignored by the Health Service Executive (HSE) because of a lack of available treatments through its addiction services.

Findings published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction examined services offered in the Irish mental health system and found that only a single service provided treatment for gambling addiction. Vulnerable gambling addicts in Ireland are mostly treated at private institutions such as the Saint John of God Hospital in Dublin.

“Immediate response” required

Colin O’Gara, a consultant psychiatrist and head of addiction services at the Saint John of God Hospital, has previously claimed that the lack of available services warrants an immediate response. He has raised concerns that the 2013 Gambling Control Bill, currently under review by the government, needs to be acted upon.

O’Gara’s findings also showed that primary care centers are not offering gambling-specific services to cater for those seeking help with problem gambling or gambling addiction. Furthermore, only around half of community health organizations for mental health offer gambling addiction services.

Fianna Fáil said the findings published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction were of great concern and called for a national strategy to combat problem gambling to be put in place as soon as possible.

Scale and uniformity

Of the community health organizations that do offer gambling addiction services, the treatments provided vary widely, with no standardized treatment practice currently implemented. The treatments on offer through drug and addiction centres also vary from centre to centre

O’Gara raised this concern previously, when he told The Times: “With the problem at the scale we think we have in Ireland, there is an obligation on whoever is holding the purse strings to make sure services are in place.”

The Institute of Public Health in Ireland has estimated around 1% of the population, or 40,000 people, have addictions within the country, while others estimate the number in reality could be as high as 110,000.

In a national online gambling survey that was commissioned by Professor O’Gara last year, 64% of people who engaged in online betting stated they thought they may have an issue with gambling, although 62% of gamblers stated they believed that they could afford to lose the funds they were using to bet.

O’Gara said it appears that organizations do appreciate the need for gambling addiction treatment, but that it is not prioritized. There is provision for treatment within the Gambling Control Bill, but O’Gara expressed his frustration at the delays in implementing the bill as it could have serious benefits for those who are most vulnerable to gambling addiction.

Prevalence of suicidal thoughts

Earlier research has shown that those who struggle with severe gambling disorders are likely to also have suicidal thoughts, further emphasizing the need for rapid action in order to make treatment available as soon as possible.

Fianna Fáil has placed a replacement bill on the table while waiting for the Gambling Control Bill to go through independent review.

However, this replacement bill requires further clarity on the costs involved in order for it to proceed, because the government is proposing a levy on gambling companies. Such a levy, if passed, would ultimately go towards a social fund.

Fianna Fáil spokesperson Jack Chambers commented that although the work that many organizations carry out is excellent, there are clear issues within the current system that need to be addressed.

He said: “The report paints a very worrying picture. It highlights the need for a national gambling strategy that would provide a centrally coordinated, public health approach to tackling gambling addiction. I have previously raised this with the government and the minister for health promotion, but they seemed blissfully unaware and dismissive of such an approach.”

The chair of the Irish Bookmakers Association, Sharon Byrne, said there is a real appetite among bookmakers in Ireland to be regulated in a similar way that those in Great Britain have been since 2007.

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