The Guardian report accuses bookmaker owners of making ‘millions’ from gambling addiction
Fred and Peter Done, who own both Betfred and Health Assured, have been accused of a "conflict of interest" due to the profits made from betting as well as from gambling addiction support.
According to The Guardian, among its contracts, Health Assured runs employee assistance programmes (EAPs) for ‘dozens' of public sector organisations, including taxpayer-funded NHS trusts that themselves treat gambling addicts.
According to the report, The Dones have taken £5.2m in dividends from Health Assured in the past three years.
The shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, told The Guardian: "Addiction, whether from gambling, drinks or drugs, is a growing mental and public health emergency in society. Of course all NHS staff should have access to mental and wellbeing support but this looks like an unacceptable conflict of interest. Corporate gambling interests should be nowhere near our health services like this."
Health Assured response
A Health Assured spokesperson said: "The front page headline in today's Guardian is factually inaccurate and therefore wholly misleading. To assert that the owners of Betfred make 'millions from care of addicts' is not only false; it is also potentially defamatory."
"For the record; Health Assured operates employee assistance programmes for its clients, which can include a confidential telephone helpline, offering signposted advice on a range of issues from problems at work, mental health, family breakdown, bereavement, and also advice on alcohol, drug and gambling addiction. However, calls from individuals who said that they had a gambling addiction amounted to less than 0.1% of all the calls Health Assured received throughout 2019, which places the so-called disclosures in today's Guardian in their rightful context."
Health Assured also said that, contrary to the assertions advanced by The Guardian, it does not provide any treatment services, and neither does it operate clinics to treat callers. "It offers signposted telephone advice only, and it is false and misleading to assert otherwise."
It added: "The management and directors of Health Assured and Betfred are also entirely separate and independent of each other. What is more, Health Assured has always been open, and provided full disclosure on ownership, during tender processes, and new contracts won have been secured on merit, because clients have been satisfied that Health Assured can provide the best service."
A government spokesperson said: "All public sector contracts have due diligence carried out before frameworks are issued, and even when a company is on a framework it does not mean they will receive a contract. The public authority awarding the contract should also carry out its own thorough due diligence, including looking for conflicts of interest."
The Guardian report comes not long after the mental health chief of the NHS, Claire Murdoch, wrote to the Gambling Commission. In the letter, Murdoch said: "As the head of England's mental health services and a nurse of more than 30 years' experience, I have seen first-hand the devastating impact on mental wellbeing of addiction and am concerned that the prevalence of gambling in our society is causing harm."
She added: "Offering people who are losing vast sums of money free tickets, VIP experiences and free bets all proactively prompt people back into the vicious gambling cycle which many want to escape."
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