NHS to launch young people’s gambling addiction service

The first NHS gambling clinic for children will open this year as part of a new network of services for addicts being rolled out as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.

The ground-breaking move comes amid growing concern that the scourge of problem gambling is being fuelled by online gaming sites and targeted adverts, NHS England say.

Hundreds of thousands of people in England have a serious problem with gambling, with an additional two million at risk of developing a disorder.

The number of children classed as having a gambling problem is 55,000, according to the Gambling Commission.

The Commission also found that 450,000 are gambling regularly, more than those who have taken drugs, drunk alcohol or smoked.

Specialist face-to-face NHS treatment for gambling addiction has only been available in London but is being made available across the country as part of the Long Term Plan.

Up to 14 new NHS clinics are being opened – starting with the NHS Northern Gambling Service in Leeds this summer, followed by Manchester and Sunderland.

The National Problem Gambling Clinic in London will also offer specialist help for children and young people aged 13 to 25 as part of an expansion which will also ramp up treatment for adults.

Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said: “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. 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 £1.5 billion 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.

“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. 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.”

The development of new clinics should give people with gambling problems, faster access to specialist, evidence-based services.

The services will see psychiatrists and clinical psychologists working with patients whose lives are being wrecked by severe or complex issues with gambling.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health said: “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. 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.”

Once referred to a clinic, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists will work with patients who could have a range of complex gambling related difficulties, including:

  • A lengthy period of problem gambling with little or no abstinence
  • Mental health difficulties, compulsive behaviours, risk of self-harm or substance misuse
  • Developmental disorders such as ADHD, ASD or difficulties with cognitive or intellectual functioning
  • Adverse experiences in childhood that might underlie the gambling problem

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I have seen first-hand the devastating impact gambling addiction can have on people’s lives and I am determined to do everything I can to help anyone affected get the help and support they need.

“We know too many young people face their lives being blighted by problem gambling – so these new clinics will also look at what more can be done to help them.

“These new specialist services, delivered as part of our NHS Long Term Plan, demonstrate the Government’s commitment to tackle the danger problem gambling can pose and my determination to ensure society’s most vulnerable are protected.”

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic and the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ spokesperson on behavioural addictions said: “Gambling disorder is a destructive condition which doesn’t discriminate. It wrecks lives, pulls families into debt and can leave people feeling suicidal. The National Problem Gambling Clinic in London has been leading the fight against gambling addiction and the NHS Long Term Plan expansion will make a big difference.”

Dr Matthew Gaskell, consultant psychologist and clinical lead for addictions at Leeds and York Partnership Foundation NHS Trust said: “This is the first time that the NHS has funded gambling addiction treatment in the north of England. The NHS Northern Gambling Service can now reach many more individuals and their families, so they can get help with this devastating problem. It will save lives.”

Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Protecting people, and particularly children, from gambling-related harm is vital. I have seen first hand the important work that these specialist clinics do and I am pleased that the NHS is expanding its support for young people.

“The gambling industry must be socially responsible and take all reasonable steps to keep people safe, including by increasing funding for research, education and treatment. My Department is working with the industry towards a strong package of measures to ensure vulnerable people are protected.”