NHS problem gambling experts back statutory RET levy proposed by SMF think tank

The NHS most senior clinicians treating gambling disorders have called for the government to impose a statutory levy on gambling industry revenues to fund the health service’s research, education and treatment (RET) programmes.

On Sunday, Dr Matt Gaskell, Clinical Lead of the NHS Northern Gambling Service, revealed his support of a policy directive proposed by think tank Social Market Foundation (SMF) that demands an overhaul of the NHS existing problem gambling’s RET funding structure.

The SMF’s directive has the support of OBE Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, who has backed calls for UK gambling to face up to its‘polluter principle’ and fund the NHS treatment and support network through a statutory % levy imposed on industry revenues. 

The government is instructed to establish a “new independent health board to oversee the spending of the levy”. Helping the NHS coordinate RET programmes, the SMF recommended that the new board should be “led by the Department of Health and not DCMS”. 

Gaskell and Bowden-Jones underlined their support of SMF proposals, having deemed existing voluntary arrangements as incompatible with NHS services and failing RET programmes overall. 

Writing their recommendations, the senior clinicians stated – “The current voluntary system has no integration of NHS services, no consistency in funding decisions, no independent evaluation of long-term impact or regulation via the Care Quality Commission, no coordinated oversight from research councils over research into harm, and serious questions have been asked about the independence of this voluntary system from the influence of the gambling industry,” wrote the clinicians in SMF.” 

“Furthermore, decisions about the funding of healthcare services are not overseen by experts at the Department of Health and Social Care, as would be expected, but rather officials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.”

The policy proposal was written by Dr James Noyes, a senior fellow of SMF and former policy advisor of Tom Watson – the ex-Labour Party deputy leader who in 2020 became a safer gambling regulatory advisor for FTSE100 Flutter Entertainment Plc. 

As the government prepares to publish its long-awaited whitepaper on UK gambling reforms – SMF recommended that it use its legal powers to sanction a statutory levy that has been an available measure since the 2005 Gambling Act was established. 

“In 2020, a House of Lords select committee report stated that it is ‘beyond belief’ that DCMS has steadfastly refused to introduce a statutory levy on the gambling industry. Yet two years on, we have still not seen any progress,” Dr Noyes mentioned.

“This is despite the fact that dozens of leading clinicians, academics and parliamentarians have called for an end to the current voluntary arrangement between DCMS, GambleAware and the gambling industry.”

The think tank believes that a new RET funding structure will allow the government to “set a clear target for reducing gambling-related harm, cutting it by half in five years”. 

This February, NHS governors ordered gambling clinics and services to cut ties with GambleAware, who have served as the grant-making charity for RET projects since 2002. 

Under GambleAware’s scheme, UK gambling’s four largest operators Flutter, Entain, 888 Holdings and bet365 had pledged to donate £100 million over a period of four years to help the charity achieve its new five-year organisational strategy. 

The charity has been a long-term advocate of a statutory levy, as CEO Zoë Osmond stated that all RET funding concerns would have been resolved by introducing a “mandatory funding model to address gambling harms to ensure all operators are held accountable”.

GambleAware maintains that it will work closely with the NHS, as the organisations share an ambition to establish a ‘whole system approach to better identify, respond and treat gambling-related harms threatening UK communities.  

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