Anna van der Gaag: RET research must be responsive to society’s greater needs 

Anna van der Gaag (CBE), the Chair of the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (ABSG), has stated that UK gambling requires urgency in developing evidence-led research to reduce gambling harms. 

The University of Surrey Professor on Ethics and Regulation has led the UK Gambling Commission’s (UKGC) advisory on research, education and treatment (RET) since 2018.

Writing an update for the UKGC, van der Gaag stated that breakthroughs in problem gambling research were hindered by the often-repeated quote of “we don’t have enough evidence yet”.

An expert researcher in medical and social care, van der Gaag acknowledged that research of healthcare tended to use polarised frames of reference.

“Positivist versus interpretive, objective versus subjective, empirical versus narrative, expert versus lay person, each one claiming superiority over the other in an increasingly politicised world of measurement,” van der Gaag observed.

Yet, urgency on the research of gambling harms was required as individuals are suffering, in which gambling’s RET stakeholders must create a way through a forest of conflicting views.

Referencing the work of Canadian physician Dave Sackett on ‘Evidence-Based Medicines (EBM)’, van der Gaag outlined that “actions can inform research”.

Van der Gaag strongly agrees with Sackett’s view that an “evidence-based practice involved the interaction of three elements – research, clinical judgement and the voice of users, and not, as many proposed, research evidence alone.”

Further observations saw the ABSG Chair agree with the evaluation of University of Oxford’s Muir Gray on value-based healthcare, in which research had to be responsive to the requirements of a postmodern society, securing values as well as evidence.

“These observations are no less relevant today than they were some two decades ago,” van der Gaag explained.

“We must not wait for one type of research evidence to be fully complete before moving forward on planning provision of services. We must evaluate carefully as provision evolves, and adapt accordingly, listening to those who already provide treatment and support.”

Of heightened significance, van der Gaag underlined the importance of lived experience feedback as a tested observation to help improve access to services and support.

Irrespective of legislative changes, the ABSG will maintain its mandate to provide the UKGC with independent oversight on RET developments to ensure that UK gambling remains fairer, safer and crime-free.

The board will further support the UKGC’s development of its  National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, ensuring progress is made on its strategic commitments.

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