UK: NHS Treatments for Gambling Addictions on Hold as Staff Reassigned

  • COVID-19 caused NHS to redeploy staff “where the need was greatest”
  • In London, 33 treatments and 29 assessments were placed on hold
  • Eight of 30 staff who provided gambling treatments were reassigned
  • At one stage, 1,200 of CNWL’s staff were shielding or isolating, with some transferred
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Some treatments for gambling addiction have been placed on hold as the coronavirus pandemic has forced the UK’s NHS to redeploy staff to where need was considered the greatest. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

COVID-19 caused NHS deployments

Dozens of people receiving National Health Service (NHS) treatment for gambling addiction in the UK had care paused because of staff redeployment, a BBC Shared Data Unit (BBC SDU) report revealed.

had to reassign staff to “where the need was greatest”

The report quotes NHS trusts as saying they had to reassign staff to “where the need was greatest” during the coronavirus pandemic. In London, treatments for 33 people were placed on hold, while 29 people awaiting assessment were also added to the pause list. Remote contacts, however, carried on for 78 people.

Eight of 30 staff who provided gambling treatment were reassigned to other posts at the Central & North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) and Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (LYPFT).

Online casino searches on the rise

In May, the BBC reported that search interest in online casinos peaked since the UK went into lockdown. Current Google Trends as of July 20 reveal UK search interest for online casinos is at an all-time high.

In April, the UK Gambling Commission said that while gambling had declined overall, there was an uptick in people playing online casino, slots, poker, and virtual sports since the pandemic. Despite gambling charities voicing concern that emotional, mental, physical, and financial issues during lockdown could prompt people to consider wagering and cause recovering addicts to fall off the wagon, the CNWL paused treatments for “stable […] well supported people.”

A YouGov survey conducted on behalf of gambling charity GambleAware estimated that as many as 1.4 million people in the UK could be classified as problem gamblers.

Treatment bottleneck

The BBC report stated that gambling charity the Gordon Moody Association said it “received more calls than ever before during lockdown including with ex-residents and some people with suicidal thoughts.”

At LYPFT, which is responsible for the north of England and north Midlands, responses under the Freedom of Information Act “showed 25 out of 125 referrals […] had not yet progressed to assessments by June.”

not a Cinderella service”

Defending any perceived notions of playing second fiddle to other areas of the national health service, NHS England national mental health director and chief executive of CNWL, Claire Murdoch, assured the BBC that CNWL’s gambling addiction treatment was “not a Cinderella service.”

Murdoch pointed out that at one stage, 1,200 of CNWL’s 7,200 staff were shielding or isolating with “some staff […] transferred to other front-line addictions services”.

Matt Gaskell, consultant psychologist and clinical lead at LYPFT’s NHS Northern Gambling Service, said normal services would soon resume.

“Our staff have worked incredibly hard during the pandemic. We’ve continued to provide individual and group therapy via video and we’ve been closely monitoring all our service users with regular telephone calls and wellbeing checks.”