THE emergency services often talk about the golden hour.
In medicine, it is the period following a traumatic injury when prompt treatment, often surgery, is most likely to prevent the patient dying.
In policing, it is the period after a murder, or other major incident, when swift action to secure and preserve evidence that would otherwise be lost is essential to solve the crime.
I believe that the concept of the ‘golden hour’ can also be applied to gambling addiction. The timescale is metaphorical, not a strictly defined period of 60 minutes, but it refers to the moment when a vulnerable individual has a moment of self-knowledge, realising they have reached rock bottom and needs to take back control.
Sometimes it might come in the early hours of the morning, after one too many nights of running up unaffordable losses. For others, it will come more gradually, perhaps after weeks or even years of cajoling by friends and family and the growing awareness of the relationships they risk losing.
No matter how or why it comes, the important thing is that the individual gets the help they need at the time they are seeking it. The window of opportunity might be brief. The moment of self-realisation will not always last and old habits can quickly re-assert themselves.
We are all aware of the impact the current lockdown could have on vulnerable individuals who have an issue with their gambling. The temptations are all too obvious and the problem has been addressed by the Gambling Commission, by political campaigners and indeed by the Betting and Gaming Council, which represents gambling operators, and has issued new guidelines to its members. So, now, more than ever, is the time for a collaborative approach that reaches beyond the industry and many different organisations have a role to play in this work.
For anyone who has an issue with their gambling, self-exclusion is a way of taking back control. More than 137,000 people have registered with GAMSTOP, a free service that allows them to exclude themselves from all online sites licensed by the Gambling Commission. More than seven out of ten have opted for the maximum period of five years.
People generally come to us when they have reached a decision that they want to stop gambling. It is a big decision to make, but from the feedback we have received from users we know it is normally a relief. In that moment of clarity – that ‘golden hour’ – they have found a way to put themselves beyond temptation.
But we also know that self-exclusion is just one tool and it should not be considered a complete solution. When someone registers with us, they are often looking for advice, further information, or access to specialist treatment. In that moment, they are open to all offers of help and it is essential that they are directed to the right place.
We have been successfully trialling a telephone transfer system in which our operators refer anyone looking for help to GamCare, a charity with whom we work closely. I know of one instance where a caller, who came to us initially, was referred to GamCare and, as a result, had 34 separate points of contact with advisors and specialists who could help them find the support they needed.
Self-exclusion is one of a range of services that a vulnerable individual might need to be offered to overcome their gambling addiction, not a catch-all.
There is an analogy with the way the emergency services operate: a patient who has suffered a traumatic injury will be taken to hospital by paramedics; a surgeon might then carry out an emergency operation; nurses will tend to the victim afterwards and look after their daily care; and, finally, physiotherapists might help with long-term rehabilitation. Different teams and specialists help the victim on the road to recovery.
We need to think about the services we offer to gambling addicts in the same way. Chris Murphy, a former addict, says GAMSTOP gave him breathing space for his gambling urges to pass; knowing he could not gamble online helped diminish the urge to do so, creating time and space to pursue treatment and recovery with a reduced risk of relapse. Banks can reinforce this by providing financial blocking options to their customers. Providers of blocking software can provide another important layer of protection, denying access to sites on all their devices.
At this point, treatment providers can get involved, whether it is through a charity such as GamCare, or through the NHS directly, which opened the Northern Gambling Service in Leeds last September, one of 14 specialist clinics being set up across the country.
This is a multi-layered approach, which offers the best chance to help vulnerable individuals overcome issues with their gambling. By working together and embracing this spirit of collaboration, we will ensure the ‘golden hour’ is not a moment of self-reflection that becomes a turning point in their lives.
Anyone who has an issue with their gambling and wants to begin the process of self-excluding from online gambling sites in the UK, can visit: www.gamstop.co.uk
Fiona Palmer is the chief executive of GAMSTOP, the UK’s free online self-exclusion service.