A Christian public policy charity has revealed the alarming lack of problem gambling data collected across most of Northern Ireland.
Research by Christian Action Research & Education (CARE) in Northern Ireland shows that only one in five Health and Social Care Trusts collect data on the number of problem gamblers in their respective areas.
According to the freedom of information responses, only Southern Trust holds such data and it showed that over the last three years, 72 people have sought help for gambling addiction.
In contrast, the four other trusts were unable to provide any and the research also showed that the Department of Health does not hold this information centrally.
Meanwhile none of the trusts had any information on the number of people seeking medical help for problem gambling.
The lack of accurate information on the number of problem gamblers is hampering policymakers from effective responses to the challenge, CARE in NI warned.
It also suggests that the challenge of gambling addiction is still not being taken as seriously as it should.
Previous research by the Department of Communities showed that Northern Ireland has the highest rate of problem gambling prevalence in the UK, with 2.3 per cent of adults in Northern Ireland found to be problem gamblers. This is compared to an equivalent figure of 0.5 per cent in England.
On Monday 24th June, NHS England announced it was introducing a specialist clinic for children suffering from a gambling problem. The NHS is planning a total of 14 clinics in England to help adults and children.
But Northern Ireland does not have a single clinic to help those who need it, despite the prevalence of problem gambling there in comparison to England.
Belfast City Councillor Dr John Kyle said: “I have written to the Department of Health and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to ask them to collect data on the number of individuals suffering from gambling addiction in Northern Ireland.
“It is imperative such data is collected so that effective policy can be developed to help those suffering from gambling addiction in Northern Ireland.”
Dr Kyle pointed out that Northern Ireland is failing those who are suffering from problem gambling and revealed his work as a GP had led to him witnessing first-hand the impact problem gambling can have in people’s lives.
“We have legislation which is not for purpose, services which are not available to those who are coming from the poorest backgrounds and completely insufficient data on the extent of the problem we have in this area,” he said.
“This is yet another area where we badly need action but cannot have it without the NI Executive in operation.”
Mark Baillie, CARE NI’s Public Policy Officer said: “We often hear of the need to develop ‘evidence-based policy’.
“We know Northern Ireland has a particular problem with problem gambling, but we are completely in the dark as to how many people are seeking help from the NHS or the extent of services which are available for those suffering from such addictions.”
Mr Baillie said the Department of Health and the Health and Social Care Trusts were needed in this instance to collect the data so policy makers can properly respond to the problem in Northern Ireland.
“Law and policy on gambling in Northern Ireland is currently failing,” he said.
“Real people are suffering as a consequence and in some cases tragically we have seen individuals engage in criminality or even go so far as taking their own lives.
“It’s absolutely clear we need urgent action to be taken, before the challenge gets any worse.”
Picture: A croupier with a roulette table. (Andrew Milligan/PA).