The NHS has announced the launch of the health service’s first young people’s gambling addiction service to help tackle the ‘scourge’ of problem gambling.
The Gambling Commission has estimated that 55,000 children have a gambling problem and 450,000 are gambling regularly.
NHS England argues that gambling among young people is fuelled by online gaming sites and targeted adverts.
To date, NHS treatment for gambling addiction has only been available in London. However, it is being made available across the country as part of the NHS 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 offer specialist help for children and young people aged 13 to 25 as part of the expansion.
‘This action shows just how seriously the NHS takes the threat of gambling addiction, even in young people,’ said Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive.
‘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.’
Mr Stevens called for a mandatory levy of gambling firms to help fund treatment.
‘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,’ he said.
‘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.’
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health commented: ‘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.’
Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic and the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ spokesperson on behavioural addictions welcomed the announcement.
‘Gambling disorder is a destructive condition which doesn’t discriminate. It wrecks lives, pulls families into debt and can leave people feeling suicidal,’ she said.
‘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.’