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The gambling industry should pay a new multimillion-pound statutory “addiction levy” to fund the prevention and treatment of gambling-related harm, the most senior NHS clinicians treating gambling addiction have said.
Prof Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, and Dr Matt Gaskell, clinical lead for the NHS Northern Gambling Service, are calling for a new independent health board to be created to tackle gambling addition.
It would be funded by a statutory levy on gambling revenues on the “polluter pays” principle, under which the most harmful parts of the industry pay the most.
That board would oversee the spending of levy money, which could reach tens of millions of pounds a year, with a target to reduce gambling-related harm by 50% within five years, starting in 2024.
In a paper for the Social Market Foundation thinktank, Bowden-Jones and Gaskell say the current voluntary arrangements for industry support for addiction services are failing badly.
“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,” they wrote.
“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.”
Currently, gambling companies make voluntary donations to the charity GambleAware, to fund a range of treatment services for people addicted to gambling. This voluntary deal will provide up to £100m over a four-year period.
In February, NHS England severed its links with GambleAware because of concerns over the group’s connection to the gambling industry. Instead, the NHS will fully fund its own gambling services across England from 1 April.
The government is reviewing the UK’s gambling laws, with proposals to be published in a white paper expected within weeks.
Dr James Noyes, a senior fellow at the SMF who co-authored the paper, said the government should take the opportunity to put the prevention and treatment of gambling harm under the leadership of the DHSC, funded through a proper statutory framework.
“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 said.
“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.”