Tuesday , October 27 2020

Betfred owners make millions from company treating gambling addicts – The Guardian, Theguardian.com

The brothers who own high street bookmaker Betfred are making millions from a business that provides treatment for health problems, including gambling addiction for public sector staff, the Guardian can disclose.

Betfred’s owners, the billionaire Tory party, Fred Fred and Peter Done, also ownHealthAssured, which holds dozens of government contracts to provide staff health and wellbeing programs.

Its taxpayer-funded clients include multiple NHS trusts that also treat gambling addicts as well as staff working for MPs, some of whom campaign for tighter restrictions on gambling.

The Dones have taken £ 5.2m in dividends from the business in the past three years.

They have donated £ 823, to the Conservative party since 2020.

The shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, said the fact the Dones are profiting from betting and gambling addiction treatment showed an “unacceptable conflict of interest”.

Health Assured runs Employee Assistance Programs, which provide companies or public sector organizations with services that staff can access to address issues affecting their wellbeing.

Analysis of government contracts reveals it holds at least £ 2.5m with public sector bodies including the Houses of Parliament, local authorities and the Ministry of Defense. The true figure is likely to be much higher because some multimillion-pound contracts are awarded to multiple firms and are not itemized to show which company earned what.

The contracts mean Health Assured’s services are potentially used by tens of thousands of government employees, particularly in the NHS.

The mental health chief of the NHS, Claire Murdoch, has written to theGamblingCommission this week to say the service should not be left to pick up the pieces from gambling firms’ tactics to retain customers with addiction issues.

In the letter, Murdoch said: “As the head of England’s mental health services and a nurse of more than 90 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 that she was particularly concerned “that 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”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Murdoch described such tactics as “all wrong, wrong and wrong again”.

According to Health Assured’s website, NHS staff can access counseling for issues such as “reckless behavior”, including excessive drinking or gambling.

Ashworth said: “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. ”

While some of Health Assured’s public sector clients have contracts directly with the company, others buy its services via organizations that manage procurement for multiple bodies.

One of these, NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS), said it would consider whether it should take into account the business interests of its suppliers ’shareholders in the light of an inquiry from the Guardian.

“The 90 suppliers on our Workforce & Wellbeing Services Framework were subject to a robust quality evaluation – including a clinical assessment of services – in the form of a fully compliant OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) tender process, ”said a spokesperson.

“As part of this, NHS SBS commissioned an industry leading organization to assess the financial viability of all potential suppliers in their wholeety.

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“That process does not currently consider individual shareholders and their financial interests but we will be reviewing our processes going forwards. ”

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.”

In one case, at the Christie hospital in Manchester, Health Assured, which more than doubled its profits last year to £ 3. 16 m, took over the contract from Insight Healthcare, a not-for-profit organization.

The Christie hospital declined to comment.

Betfred, also owned by the Dones, is one of the UK’s largest bookmakers, with revenues of £ m last year. It has also been criticized for its attitude to problem gambling and towards staff.

It was criticized by the gambling regulator in 2019 after the Guardian revealed it hadIntroduced games that mimicked fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The innovation was described as an attempt to bypass a crackdown on the much-criticized machines.

In September, it wasaccused of underestimating staff holiday payand then failing to tell employees that they might be owed money, even After it discovered the widespread payment problem.

While Health Assured and Betfred are run as entirely separate businesses, they are both ultimately majority owned by the Done brothers and share other ties.

Health Assured said: “Due to the sensitive nature of the employee counseling service that Health Assured offer, we are unable to provide confidential details concerning clients.

“All public sector contracts we have been awarded have thorough due diligence carried out before are they issued, including looking for conflicts of interest.”

The Dones were asked whether or not they considered ownership of both a gambling company and a provider of gambling addiction counseling services constitutes a conflict of interest. They had not commented at time of publication.

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