Opinion: NHS Rejection of Gambling Funds Will Only Cost Addicts

  • The NHS will cut off all ties with gambling industry-funded GambleAware starting April 1
  • It’s a decision that will come at a high cost, with gambling firms donating £19m ($25.9m) in 20/21
  • The rejection comes at a time when the NHS is majorly understaffed and underfunded
  • Murdoch must put morality to one side and focus on treating gambling addicts in the best way
NHS logo
VSO News writer Owain Flanders believes the NHS should reconsider its decision to refuse millions in funding by cutting ties with GambleAware. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Cutting all industry ties

While most of us enjoy testing our luck on gambling websites from time to time, addiction is an ongoing issue in markets across the world. This is particularly true in the UK, where estimates suggest around 0.5% of adults suffer from compulsive gambling, representing around 246,000 people. 

3% of these problem gamblers end up seeking help

According to a YouGov survey, only around 3% of these problem gamblers end up seeking help. Their main avenue for that support is through the National Health Service (NHS), which has upped its efforts to help gambling addicts in recent years, offering support groups and specialized clinics.

On Saturday, however, NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch announced that the body is cutting off a major source of its funding for that treatment. From April 1, the NHS will no longer accept cash from GambleAware, a charity mainly funded through voluntary donations from the gambling industry.

The official NHS Twitter page confirmed the news with a quote from Murdoch:

Murdoch said patients feel uncomfortable benefitting from the gambling industry – perfectly understandable considering their reasons for requiring the treatment in the first place. Nevertheless, the NHS’s decision to refuse the funding is deeply flawed for a number of reasons.

A multimillion-dollar fund

While some might laud Murdoch’s decision as a noble one, it is worth considering the size of the fund she is choosing to reject. All of the UK’s major gambling operators contribute millions to GambleAware voluntarily each year. Additionally, when a gambling company receives a UK Gambling Commission fine, a large portion will also go towards the charity.

£1.2m ($1.6m) provided directly to NHS specialist clinics

Of course, an industry that earns £14bn+ ($19bn+) per year can provide hefty contributions at fairly little cost. GambleAware accounts show it collected £19m ($25.9m) in donations for the 12 months ending 31 March 2021. Between April and December last year, it collected a further £16m ($21.8m), including £1.2m ($1.6m) provided directly to NHS specialist clinics.

In her own letter, Murdoch acknowledged that these funds had helped the NHS roll out its addiction services “faster than would have otherwise been possible.” The body plans to open a further two specialist clinics in England this year, taking the total across the nation to seven. This forms part of a £2.3bn ($3.13bn) investment into NHS mental health services.

While no one can deny such an investment is needed, it comes at a time when the NHS continues to struggle in other areas. The COVID-19 pandemic only highlighted these cracks, with underfunded and understaffed hospitals buckling under the pressure of high demand. Taking this into account, is it really the right time to refuse a reliable multimillion-dollar cash influx?

Put emotion to one side

Concluding her letter, Murdoch wrote: “It is absolutely right that the NHS now funds these clinics independently, recognizing 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.”

It’s an emotive ending to summarise a decision based on morality. Murdoch and the NHS have concluded that they can no longer benefit from the industry causing the issue, deciding to sacrifice funding to position themselves on the right side of public opinion. However, they need to take a step back and consider whether it is in the best interest of the patients they treat.

a 16% increase in referrals to gambling clinics last year

More and more people are now looking for support for gambling addiction, with the latest data showing a 16% increase in referrals to gambling clinics last year, up to 668. These people, and many others, need help. The gambling industry is in a position to provide the NHS with the resources to supply that help. It’s really not that complicated.

The gambling industry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It will continue to make billions each year whether its opponents like it or not. For the good of their patients, Murdoch and the NHS must put emotion to one side in accepting their portion of these funds, as the alternative provides no benefits other than a virtuous pat on the back.