Flinders University has warned its world-renowned gambling research centre could be wound up when a South Australian Government therapy contract is handed over to a private provider.
The government-funded Statewide Gambling Therapy Service (SGTS) was being run out of Flinders Medical Centre and was vital for the university’s research, but its contract was put out to tender and reduced from $1.3 million to $1 million.
The university’s Centre for Gambling Research had close ties with the therapy service, using its client database to develop world-renowned programs to help addicts.
Centre director Professor Malcolm Battersby said without the database that work could disintegrate.
“We have over 5,000 people in our database now and this would be one of the largest databases of people that have been in a treatment program anywhere in the world,” he said.
“[Without that] we become uncompetitive in research grants or anything that’s to do with clinical treatment outcomes.
“Other research we are currently doing would wind down and it’s highly possible that the research centre would have to close eventually.”
New service delivered by ‘highly respected team’
Private psychology firm PsychMed has been awarded the contract.
Managing director Dr Quentin Black said the new service would be delivered by a highly regarded and respected team.
“PsychMed’s team has significant experience at both the clinical and research [academic] level with addressing the severe psychological impacts of problem gambling on individuals and our community,” he said.
He said PyschMed’s winning proposal was “underpinned by a reinvigorated and updated evidence base”.
This included strategies for treating online gambling, more metropolitan service centres, and the development of rural and remote services.
The State Government said it recognised the role that SGTS had played in gambling research but said “it is not a role that the competitive tender process sought to support from the Gambling Rehabilitation Fund”.
Flinders design replicated worldwide
Flinders University researchers designed the current treatment model used at the SGTS, which has been replicated in Victoria and around the world.
The centre has designed a number of targeted treatment programs, including for multicultural, Aboriginal and prison groups.
“Internationally we are regarded as a world leader in treatment research,” Professor Battersby said.
“It seems like a loss, not just to the university, but for the public of South Australia.”
Australian Medical Association State President Dr Janice Fletcher said it would be a tragedy if the centre was wound up.
“In the year 2016 we expect best practice to be implemented. If we don’t do the research we won’t know what that is,” she said.
She said the centre had the capacity to evaluate in fine detail the outcomes of people treated through their programs.
“We should be thinking, how can we engage the research centre to evaluate this different changed model?” Dr Fletcher said.