9 November 2011
Research, education and treatment programmes aimed at tackling gambling-related harm must be based firmly on work already done says the third annual strategy of the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB). A great deal more work also needs to be done to build up expertise and extend our knowledge, the report says, so that the government, the Gambling Commission as regulator, other policy makers and those who provide treatment services can make informed judgements about what is likely to be effective – and what is not.
The RGSB is the national authoritative voice on gambling-related harm issues, and was set up in late 2008 to advise the Gambling Commission on the programmes needed to support a national responsible gambling strategy.
The Board's Strategy 2011 highlights notable successes achieved over the last year by the charity that funds research, education and treatment programmes, the Responsible Gambling Fund (RGF). For example, a scheme being developed by the Royal College of GPs to train 1500 GPs nationwide in spotting and referring on problem gamblers is on target to go 'live' from April 2012. Three pilot projects in Scotland, Wales and the West Midlands that are bringing together community-based organisations in each of the three areas into new networks to minimise gambling-related harm early on, are also making good progress. Alternatives to counselling are badly needed and these RGF-funded pilot projects and other partnership work must be preserved in any future funding arrangements aimed at tackling gambling-related harm, says the report.
RGSB welcomes the news that freephone operations for the national gambling helpline will begin in 2012/13 for a trial period. It looks forward to seeing the robust and independent evaluation of that trial, as the public needs to be assured that it meets quality standards and achieves the value for money of similar helplines.
The rise in the overall percentage of adults who are at some form of risk of developing gambling problems is a concern for the board. Treating those who have developed a problem remains a priority, but more work needs to be done to address the risk factors associated with problem gambling by identifying them earlier, and intervening earlier to prevent gambling related harm from developing.
On RGSB's advice, RGF devised a data reporting framework that standardises information and helps improve understanding of what happens in services that treat problem gamblers. This is vital for designing and assessing programmes in the future. RGSB advises that any treatment provider should in future be required to support and take part in the framework as a condition of funding.
The strategy emphasises the need for independent evaluation, external validation and the value of expert impartial advice in devising and running treatment and prevention programmes.
The recent Map the Gap study published by RGF suggests some promising lines of further enquiry and the research community in Britain needs to be engaged in following these up. RGSB also advises that the programme of research into gaming machines – the first of its kind in Britain – must be completed.
RGSB is keen to bring insights from other disciplines – including psychiatry, economics, law, and research methods – into this area, rather than rely entirely on professionals who have always worked in the gambling field. Funding PhD students in these and other fields aims to build research capacity across Great Britain, alongside the research projects which are backed by RGSB's research panel.
Funding decisions about research, education and treatment in the future must be made impartially and they must not be dominated by any of the service providers nor by the gambling industry, advises RGSB. They must also command widespread confidence through transparent and independent commissioning and reporting.
Commenting, the outgoing chair of RGSB, Baroness Julia Neuberger DBE, whose three-year term comes to an end later this year, says:
"Some enormously important steps have taken place. I would particularly like to highlight the work with the Royal College of General Practitioners to train GPs nationwide in spotting and referring on problem gamblers. Ranking alongside that are the three Gambling Risk and Harm Minimisation pilots in Scotland, Wales and the West Midlands. Their integrated approach to identifying gambling-related risk and harm early is pioneering new ways to tackle the issue. And preliminary work the board has done on preventing gambling-related harm among young people has attracted an enthusiastic response from a wide range of organisations.
"All this has to be set in the context of a small but significant increase in the numbers of problem gamblers and a lack of understanding amongst some of the key players, in both the industry and the treatment worlds, about public health and community-based prevention.
"There is therefore a huge amount for my successor, with the whole Board and research panel, to take forward, and a great deal of important work to be tackled. I very much hope that the body that decides where funding is given, and that raises money from the industry, will be able to continue the impressive work that has been achieved."
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