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Problem Gambling Consolidation

28 November 2006

Problem Gambling Consolidation

The Ministry of Health is moving to consolidate problem gambling services after a downturn in problem gamblers seeking help.

Deputy Director-General Mental Health Dr Janice Wilson says that under usual circumstances any fall in the number of problem gamblers seeking help would be cause for celebration. But she says we don’t know enough about the causes of the downturn to feel any level of comfort about how lasting it is likely to be.

The smoking ban affecting casinos and legislation limiting some gambling opportunities are both seen as reasons behind the downturn.

“We know from overseas experience that many problem gamblers do not seek help until their gambling problems have got to the point of wreaking havoc with their lives and the lives of their loved ones."

“We also know that problem gambling internationally is a growing problem and long term New Zealand is unlikely to be much different."

Dr Wilson says Ministry staff have been involved in a series of discussions with providers to look more closely at the apparent low service use.

"The Ministry is committed to ensuring that providers understand their contracts and meet the contract requirements. We are working to ensure that all money used to combat problem gambling is fully utilized and produces effective outcomes.

“Staff are working hard with those providers identified at being at greatest risk and are trying to balance reducing overheads and expenses against the ability to provide an adequate level of service nationwide." Some of the common problems we’ve been dealing with, with providers, have included missed service delivery targets, incomplete reporting, too few clients and too few skilled staff.

A key Ministry approach has been to try and trim back funding to match need but still maintain a strong problem gambling service presence through out the country.

“Providers tell some heart wrenching stories of individuals whose lives have been so badly affected by their gambling that they’ve considered suicide.

“Although they’re not often described in this way, at times, problem gambling services can save lives.

Dr Wilson says its expected that the outcome of the latest round of reviews may result in some services being reduced or closed, but says the Ministry is committed to ensuring reasonable access to problem gamblers regardless of where they may live.

“We know that we’ll tap into some of the hidden costs of problem gambling when our awareness raising campaign kicks off next year and we want to ensure our services are well placed to deal with any additional demand.

Additional questions

When will the Ministry start making calls on reducing or closing services?
The Ministry is reviewing twelve providers whose service usage in 2005/06 was low. One provider's service has been reduced but the process is not yet complete. Twelve providers are small (1-4 FTE services) and five of the twelve are new. We are taking a thorough investigative approach to each one. While we are concerned to ensure that funding reflects need, we are also aware of the risks associated with a hasty, reactive closure of services and the costs that flow from trying to reestablish them at some later date.

The Ministry will not close or reduce a service on the evidence of historic client volumes data alone. While we take this into account, we also consider the particular circumstances of the provider over the past year and whether service use has picked up recently, perhaps in response to the recruitment of new staff. During our investigations into these twelve cases, some small providers have described higher service usage than that reported in statistical reports. We are assessing whether those claims are well founded and whether a service might improve with support from, for example, additional training and supervision. We also want to take into account the findings from the audits that are presently being conducted.

What other services have been provided ?
Many have screened clients with alcohol and other drug addiction problems as research suggests high co-morbidity rates. To date this screening has picked up very few referrals.

Most have established links with professionals in their communities - health centres, social workers, WINZ, budgeting services - so they are familiar with other services clients will be referred to.

Problem gambling services promotion in the community - radio and newspaper items as well as establishing links with community groups and churches.

How much money do we expect to save
Some savings are possible, but as the providers in question are small the savings will not be significant.

What will we do with it?
Any underspend in the 2006/07 year will be set against the problem gambling levy requirements for the 2007-2010 period


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