GamCare CEO, Anna Hemmings, talks about the rich mix of services that helps to support those suffering from gambling related harm, as we head into another national lockdown.
Since coming to lead GamCare two years ago I often reflect on my previous experience, both commissioning and delivering services and support for people with drug, alcohol and mental health issues. There are obvious parallels, not least the complex needs of those we support, but also the rich mix of NHS and charitable support that is there to help people on their treatment journey.
As we head into our second national lockdown its more important than ever that all services pull together to support those most in need.
GamCare operates as part of the National Gambling Treatment Service, or ‘NGTS’. The collective offer from the NGTS is greater than the sum of its parts. The helpline and treatment services which GamCare run complement other members like the NHS Northern Gambling Service or the CNWL NHS Trust’s London Problem Gambling Clinic – who offer vital support for those with more complex needs. Residential support is offered by Gordon Moody Association, and a range of support is offered around England and Wales by GamCare’s network of local partner agencies.
We are all funded by GambleAware, who gather donations from the gambling industry under the current funding arrangements. And even though this money goes to fund and commission research, education and treatment to reduce gambling-related harms, there is a challenge for all of us to be clear that gambling businesses do not influence where that money goes or how it is used. One of the ways we do this is through robust governance and conflict of interest policies. We are all delivering the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harm, led by the Gambling Commission.
There is a lot of passion and purpose amongst us, but we all share the same goal – to reduce gambling harms through the support we offer.
Before the first lockdown earlier this year, we had begun the challenging task of reviewing and developing referral pathways for those with the most complex needs to get to NHS treatment as quickly as possible – we know that complexity in client needs can be difficult to define in simple terms and as a result, NHS services have different thresholds for accepting referrals.
We are part of the NHS England Steering Group which is charged with integrating care systems for the further NHS gambling clinics outlined in the Long-Term Plan, however due to the current pandemic this work had paused. We have recently made progress on this and I’m very much looking forward to being able to publish further insight on how these thresholds will be able to work in practice.
We know that right now, only a small number of the people estimated to be harmed by gambling in Great Britain receive support – according to data from across the NGTS, around 3% of those people accessed support and treatment in 2019/20. We acknowledge there is far more work to do to reach those who need us, and to adapt the range of services available across the NGTS so that they better reflect the people we’re here to support and the ways they wish to engage with us.
The Helpline run by GamCare offers both phone and live chat services, and our team of advisers speak to around 40,000 people each year. Up to 20% of those calls are from people we call ‘affected others’, people who are calling because they’re concerned about a loved one who might be showing signs of gambling getting out of control. We also receive calls from those who have questions about how to prevent harms from escalating, and the earlier someone gets in touch, the better we can help them stay safe.
We’re very aware that many of those we speak to are not always ‘treatment ready’, and our advisers are trained to work to develop motivation for change where possible, and connect callers to appropriate support. For some, this will involve signposting to other services, especially in instances where the caller isn’t sure if they want a referral – often they want to explore the options and get more information first. We signpost to wide ranging services, including 433 people given information about NHS support services in 2019/20.
Where a caller would benefit from structured support and treatment services, and they are happy to move forward with this, our team can make a direct referral according to their needs. At the start of treatment an assessment takes place, and on occasion, it becomes clear that the person has more complex needs and would benefit from further support. We have made 186 referrals to NHS-based support from our Helpline and treatment services in the last 18 months.
As well as referrals from the helpline, many also self-refer to NGTS services. There is no right or wrong way to access support across the system – we can meet people wherever they are, and we work together to get them the best support.
Lockdown is going to be challenging for everyone, however our focus remains on ensuring that those experiencing gambling related harms know where to access help – for free, with confidence and without any judgement.
I am looking forward to sharing further insights here – introducing new, regular blog where I will try and unpack the range of things we do at GamCare. I will also aim to bring insights from other sectors, sharing challenges and successes along the way.