Belfast Telegraph

80% of health trusts collect no information on problem gamblers

Only one of the five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland collects any data on problem gamblers
Only one of the five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland collects any data on problem gamblers

By Christopher Leebody

Only one of the five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland collects any data on problem gamblers.

The gap in policy was revealed by Freedom of Information requests lodged by the Christian Action Research and Education (Care) charity.

In the responses, only the Southern Health and Social Care Trust could advise that 72 people had sought help for gambling addiction over the previous three years.

The remaining trusts held no information, with the Department of Health also unable to provide the statistics centrally.

All five trusts said they lacked the policy pathways to treat gambling addiction, with people instead being directed to community and voluntary services or other non-statutory facilities.

The responses also showed a lack of provision for employees to be adequately trained to identify and treat problem gamblers.

Only the Southern Health and Social Care Trust could identify specific training programmes for members of staff.

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust, the largest by population served, said: "The trust does not provide any training to medical professionals for treating individuals suffering from problem gambling."

Care's Mark Baillie expressed concern over the situation.

"We often hear of the need to develop evidence-based policy. We know Northern Ireland has a problem with problem gambling, but we are completely in the dark as to how many people are seeking help from the NHS," he said.

"We need the department and trusts to collect this data so policymakers can properly respond to this problem.

"Law and policy on gambling in Northern Ireland is currently failing."

A report published by the Department for Communities in 2017 showed that Northern Ireland had the highest rate of problem gambling in the UK, with 2.3% of adults found to be problem gamblers compared to 0.5% in England.

Former GAA player Oisin McConville (43), who previously struggled with gambling, called on the department and health trusts to do more.

"I don't think that we take it seriously enough," Mr McConville said.

"A lot of our focus is on drink and drugs but, believe me, I'm working in the field every day in the week and I know gambling is massive in this country. There are so many people affected.

"Women between the ages of 25 and 45 are the highest referrals to Gamblers Anonymous.

"The advertising is at saturation point.

"We have so many more people who are problem-gambling or gambling compulsively.

"The thing about gambling is, it is usually only when it is at breaking point that there is an intervention.

"At breaking point, there is so much collateral damage.

"I have spoken to people that are in that much of a crisis that their family home is being gambled around them."

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