Health Assured contracts with government agencies
The owners of UK-based sports betting giant Betfred are taking heat for an apparent conflict of interest in their ownership of Health Assured. Health Assured is a health and well-being network that, among other things, helps people with gambling addiction problems.
The cross-company ties were brought to light Thursday by The Guardian. The media outlet pointed out that Health Assured holds “dozens” of contracts to provide services to government agencies.
received dividend payments of £5.2m ($6.8m) from Health Assured over the past three years
Among these clients are trusts of the National Health Service (NHS) that work with problem gamblers. As such, Betfred owners, the brothers Fred and Peter Done, have made money partially from taxpayer funds.
The Dones have received dividend payments of £5.2m ($6.8m) from Health Assured over the past three years.
Government officials critical of Betfred relationship
Health Assured’s website tends to be a bit vague on the specific assistance it can provide, but it does discuss mental health services it offers to both individuals and employers.
Digging deeper, the site has a blog entry about depression, noting that one sign of the condition is “reckless behaviour.” This includes “increased alcohol use, gambling, or dangerous activity.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth seemed to bristle at the link between Betfred and Health Assured.
“Of course all NHS staff should have access to mental and wellbeing support but this looks like an unacceptable conflict of interest,” Ashworth told The Guardian. He also said:
Corporate gambling interests should be nowhere near our health services like this.”
Claire Murdoch, the mental health chief of the NHS, lashed out at the gambling industry in general in a letter to the Gambling Commission this week. She decried the tactics of gaming firms who take advantage of people’s addictions to keep them spending money.
“….offering people who are losing vast sums of money free tickets, VIP experiences and free bets all proactively prompt people back into the vicious gambling cycle which many want to escape,” Murdoch wrote.
Vendor due diligence might change
A spokesperson for NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), a services procurement organization that acts as a broker of sorts for government agencies, told The Guardian that it does not currently look at other business relationships of its vendors.
It subjects each one, including Health Assured, to a “robust quality evaluation,” but admitted that perhaps it should investigate expanded business trees of shareholders.
“That process does not currently consider individual shareholders and their financial interests but we will be reviewing our processes going forwards,” the spokesperson said.
Another government spokesperson told The Guardian that due diligence is conducted before requests for proposals even go out and that even if a potential vendor if asked to submit a proposal, it doesn’t mean they will be chosen.
“The public authority awarding the contract should also carry out its own thorough due diligence, including looking for conflicts of interest,” the government spokesperson added.
The Done brothers did not respond to The Guardian when asked if they feel their ownership of Betfred and a company that provides gambling addiction counseling is a conflict of interest.