Just what the doctor ordered, or a gamble that will change nothing?
21st March 2011
There have been at least three attempts in the past 25 years to introduce a national health lottery in the UK. All have failed.
So a degree of scepticism surrounded the announcement that media mogul Richard Desmond was planning to raise at least £50 million a year for health-related causes with a lottery to be launched this year.
Mr Desmond is well placed to publicise and market the venture via his Northern & Shell empire, and has health philanthropy exerience. At a time when front-line health and social care services are under threat, it shouldn’t be difficult to find projects “outside the remit of the NHS” in need of cash.
The Health Lottery’s chief executive Martin Hall says that he plans to bring together 31 regional lotteries operated by non-profit making Community Interest Companies. These would be promoted under a single Health Lottery brand. Tickets for the lottery draw will cost El, with 20.5p from each ticket going to causes such as equipping train stations with defibrillators and providing respite relief for young carers. The prizes would be “life changing” according to Mr Hall.
However, under gambling regulations, the maximum prize that can be offered from a single charity lottery ticket is £400,000. This pales in comparison to the multimillion- pound rollovers regularly offered by the National Lottery.
Charities that stand to benefit from the new lottery appear nonplussed by developments. Neither Barnardo’s, which runs programmes for young carers, nor the British Heart Foundation whose £6 million National Lottery funded programme has already placed more than 2,000 defibrillators around the country, has heard anything from the Health Lottery.
Maura Gillespie, head of policy and advocacy at the BHP said that any extra investment would be welcome. “But until more information on the Health Lottery has been released, we can’t know if or what opportunities it may hold for us and other charities.”
There is no doubt that lotteries can raise substantial sums for healthcare. The Big Lottery Fund, which has awarded almost £42b million to health- related projects since 2005, will publish research later this month that suggests the projects it has funded through its Wellbeing Fund have produced lasting benefits in areas such as mental health, physical activity and healthy eating. (CLES Consulting is conducting this research)
James Gubb, director of the health unit at think-tank Civitas, said there was a growing recognition that state funding could no longer cover all the needs of healthcare. “So any extra funding that could come from a lottery would be welcome,” he said.
Nevertheless, there remain doubts as to whether lotteries are the most appropriate way of raising these funds.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, has resetvaHons. “Using lottery funding to pay for health-related projects is not ideal,” she said. “Supporting health-related causes can sometimes assist but it should be the Government’s job to ensure that healthcare is extended to all who need it and not rely on goodwill or gambling.” Indeed research into the National Lottery by the theology think-tank Theos, suggests that lotteries raise a disproportionate amount of funds from the low income groups who are also at the highest risk of ill health.
The lottery does good work with legitimate projects. But the question is whether, at the same time, it is damaging for those it has been set up to help,” said the report’s author Paul Bickley.
At present The Health Lottery appears to be little more than a brand name and a colourful logo. Backed by the weight of Richard Desmond’s media empire, it may avoid the fate of those that have gone before it. But only once its infrastructure is in place will it be possible to tell whether the Health Lottery will bring lasting health benefits to those who need it most, or shnply end up as a way of asking the poor to pay for the sick,