SBC News IPH recommends NI public health approach to reduce gambling harms

IPH recommends NI public health approach to reduce gambling harms

Northern Ireland’s government has been advised to implement a public health approach to minimise gambling harms and protect citizens from gambling addiction. 

The recommendation was made by Dr Joanna Purdy and Dr Helen McAvoy of the Institute of Public Health (IPH) who shared opinions on the first sitting of the Northern Ireland All Party Group (APG) on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling.

Last December, the APG launched its inquiry to examine the approach to the treatment of gambling-related harms in Northern Ireland, considering public health, welfare and well-being evidence and factors.

The inquiry allowed for stakeholders to submit feedback by 3 February 2023, allowing the APG to showcase evidence by healthcare professionals, advocacy groups, academics, departmental officials and those with lived experience of gambling harms.

The IPH serves as an all-Ireland organisation focused on public health policies to reduce societal inequalities and has recommended that NI adopt a “population-level approach to protect the health and wellbeing of the entire population, including children and young people”.

The APG was advised to promote a public health approach that would factor the protective measures of “GDPR, proof of age, online safety, test purchasing and child protection, to protect the rights of children and to protect them from harm and exploitation.”

Should the NI government adopt a public health approach, an advisory committee will be needed to oversee policy development focused on protecting children and the vulnerable.

At a policy level, the IPH advised the NI government to implement a ‘prevention first approach’ as minimising harm will require legislative support and coordination with inter-governmental departments/agencies.

As such, the development and progress of a public health approach should be “treated as a collective responsibility” as departments should be made aware of their roles to reduce harm be it local councils, the police, the criminal justice system and financial/debt services 

It cited – “For example, the recent Department for Communities consultation on a Debt Respite Policy Proposal sought views on how to incentivise more people to access professional debt advice and to access it sooner, helping them to reach sustainable debt solutions”.

The overall success of a public health approach should be gauged on ‘reducing social inequalities’ across NI communities by improving access to treatment and support facilities.

Of significance, the IPH recommended that a “consideration be given to engagement with the Northern Ireland Coroner’s Office to explore the extent to which gambling is a contributory factor in death by suicide”.

A final recommendation cited that a public health approach should feature a  ‘health needs assessment’ to provide the insights and opinions of those who have lived experience of gambling harms/addiction in NI who can best evaluate the treatment services and support available.

“To conclude, we welcome this inquiry and believe there is much to be gained from adopting a public health approach to gambling-related harms.” 

“However, it hinges on a number of key components: fit for purpose legislation, establishment of a regulator, cross-government engagement and mobilisation of key agencies and actors to support a collective and coordinated effort to addressing gambling-related harms in Northern Ireland.”

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