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Problem gamblers in limbo

Wait continues for community-based support service

Problem gamblers and their whanau are in limbo without free support services in Tairawhiti, a district health board member says.

The region has not had a government-funded problem gambling service since September 2018 when former provider Te Ara Tika Trust relinquished its “unsustainable” contract with the Ministry of Health.

Hauora Tairawhiti board member Meredith Akuhata-Brown said the risk of problem gamblers coming to harm without support, along with the stresses their whanau faced, underscored the pressing need for the service to be re-established.

It appears the Ministry of Health agrees.

The ministry is considering stepping in with a temporary solution as the DHB struggles to recruit staff for the service.

Ms Akuhata-Brown questioned whether there was another organisation in the region that could pick up the contract in the meantime.

She told The Gisborne Herald she would raise the issue at Hauora Tairawhiti's next board meeting on February 25 and ask about the priority DHB staff were giving to setting up the service.

Nati4Life Trust manager Tuta Ngarimu said there was “definitely” a need for a funded problem gambling service in Gisborne, with millions of dollars being fed into the district's pokie machines each year.

The trust was set up to support people affected by suicide.

Mr Ngarimu knew of a person who took their own life after losing their car, house and family to problem gambling.

Hauora Tairawhiti planning and funding manager Nicola Ehau said the DHB accepted a two-year contract, which started on August 1 last year, with the proviso the service would eventually return to a community provider.

This was after the ministry asked the DHB to help it re-establish a problem gambling service in Tairawhiti, Ms Ehau said. The DHB-run service was meant to be set up by November once a counsellor and a health promotion adviser had been recruited. But no suitable candidates had come forward, despite the roles being advertised several times.

Ministry of Health addiction manager Richard Taylor confirmed the ministry had withheld payments for the service, given it was not operating.

The ministry had given the DHB some money to set up the service but it could not stipulate how much in time for publication.

Neither could it elaborate on the “temporary options” it was considering if the DHB's latest recruitment drive was unsuccessful.

Ms Ehau said the DHB was reviewing the vacancies and looking at how it could help candidates meet the job requirements.

“We are happy to provide training to the right person to ensure they have the necessary skills this community needs,” she said.

The DHB's addictions team had provided counselling to problem gamblers who were also suffering from drug or alcohol addictions.

But problem gamblers without other addictions were being referred to the Gambling Helpline on 0800 654 655.

Problem gamblers in Tairawhiti could also access free counselling in neighbouring Hawke's Bay or Lakes DHB areas, and 10 Gisborne residents had done so in the 12 months to June 30, 2019.

In the year to September 30, 2019, the 159 gaming machines in Tairawhiti made $11.4 million.

Where to get help:

- Te Kuwatawata: 06 868 3550.

- Tairawhiti Crisis Team: 0800 243 500 (24/7).

- Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 anytime to speak to a trained counsellor for any reason.

- Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357.

- Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide or those who are concerned about family or friends.

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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