The country’s first NHS gambling clinic for children is to open this year, NHS England has announced.
The move is a response to ‘growing concern that the scourge of problem gambling is being fuelled by online gaming sites and targeted adverts’.
According to the Gambling Commission, around 55,000 children can be classed as having a gambling problem, while 450,000 are regular gamblers – a higher number than those who have drunk alcohol or taken drugs (DDN, December/January, page 5).
The clinic will form part of a growing network of services for people with gambling issues being developed as part of the NHS Long-Term Plan (DDN, February, page 5). So far, specialist face-to-face treatment for gambling addiction has only been available on the NHS in London, but the plan will see the establishment of up to 14 new clinics, starting with the NHS Northern Gambling Service in Leeds, and followed by services in Manchester and Sunderland. London’s National Problem Gambling Clinic will also offer specialist help to young people aged 13 to 25 as well as expanding its services for adults. The services will each have psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, and will offer ‘faster access to specialist, evidence-based services’.
‘This has the potential to be a major turning point and it is all about making sure the NHS does everything it can to help people of all ages, who are seriously addicted to gambling,’ said NHS England’s national director for mental health, Claire Murdoch. ‘There is already a big push to transform mental health services across the board for children and young people and the specific focus on gambling-related addiction is the logical next step, particularly given the explosion of online gambling.’
‘The links between problem gambling and stress, depression and mental health problems are growing and there are too many stories of lives lost and families destroyed,’ added NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens. ‘This action shows just how seriously the NHS takes the threat of gambling addiction, even in young people, but we need to be clear – tackling mental ill health caused by addiction is everyone’s responsibility – especially those firms that directly contribute to the problem. This is an industry that splashes £1.5bn on marketing and advertising campaigns, much of it now pumped out online and through social media, but it has been spending just a fraction of that helping customers and their families deal with the direct consequences of addiction.’
A recent paper in the BMJ called for a compulsory levy to be placed on the industry to fund support for those needing help, as well as responsibility for gambling issues to be transferred to the Department of Health and Social Care (DDN, June, page 5).
‘The sums just don’t add up and that is why as well as voluntary action it makes sense to hold open the possibility of a mandatory levy if experience shows that’s what’s needed,’ Simon Stevens continued. ‘A levy to fund evidence-based NHS treatment, research and education can substantially increase the money available, so that taxpayers and the NHS are not left to pick up a huge tab.