The NHS has severed its links with the charity GambleAware due to concerns over its connections to the gambling industry.
Announcing two new clinics to deal with record demand for gambling addiction services in England, the mental health director of the NHS, Claire Murdoch, decried the “predatory tactics” of gambling companies.
The decision comes as the health service begins to distance itself from an industry that officials believe is causing serious damage to the nation’s mental health.
“Gambling addiction is a cruel mental health condition that can devastate people’s lives,” Murdoch said. “It is also absolutely right that the NHS now funds these clinics independently, recognising the harmful effects this addiction can have, and that predatory tactics from gambling companies are part of the problem, not the solution.”
According to NHS England figures, 668 people suffering with severe addiction issues were referred to gambling clinics between April and December last year, a 16.2% increase on the 575 referrals made during the same period in 2020.
Writing separately to the CEO of GambleAware, Zoë Osmond, Murdoch said the move had been made after assessing complaints from patients and doctors.
“Our decision has been heavily influenced by patients who have previously expressed concern about using services paid for directly by industry,” she wrote. “Additionally, our clinicians feel there are conflicts of interest in their clinics being part-funded by resources from the gambling industry.”
GambleAware, which describes itself as “an independent, grant-making charity commissioning prevention and treatment services” is funded almost entirely by donations from the gambling industry.
Last year it announced a three-year funding arrangement with the UK’s four biggest gambling companies totalling £100m. It has previously been criticised for having too big an influence on the funding of research into and treatment of gambling addiction.
NHS England has had a “dual commissioning and funding” arrangement with GambleAware since 2019, with £1.2m a year going into the National Gambling Treatment Service, which currently operates five clinics in London, Leeds, Manchester and Sunderland as well as a national telephone helpline.
The two new clinics, set to open in Southampton and Stoke-on-Trent, are now to be funded entirely by the health service, as part of a £2.3bn increase in mental health spending authorised by the government.
Murdoch wrote to Osmond that the NHS remained “committed to maintaining a constructive operational relationship with GambleAware”.
In a statement released to the Guardian, Osmond said: “There may be up to 2.9 million people in Great Britain at risk of gambling harm and we welcome NHS England’s commitment to open two new NHS-funded gambling harm treatment clinics.
“Gambling is a serious public health issue which requires a collaborative approach, involving the third sector and the NHS within a coherent system of care. We look forward to continuing to work with NHS England and supporting them to provide an integrated solution to preventing and treating gambling harm.
“The charity has robust governance processes in place to ensure the gambling industry has absolutely no influence over any of our work.
“We are also accountable to the Charity Commission and the Gambling Commission, which fully endorses the charity’s activity and governance structure, while working to deliver the national strategy to reduce gambling harms.”