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NHS boss announces doubling of gambling clinics

| By Zak Thomas-Akoo
NHS England CEO Amanda Pritchard has announced the organisation will be increasing the number of gambling addiction clinics to 15.
NHS gambling clinics

The seven new clinics come in the face of “record demand” for NHS gambling services. The NHS said that the new clinics will be based in Milton Keynes, Thurrock, Bristol, Derby, Blackpool, Liverpool and Sheffield. The clinics are planned in addition to the eight existing centres.

The announcement comes as the NHS published new figures showing that the number of patients referred for help has risen precipitously in recent years.

According to the data, 1,389 individuals were referred last year, a more than 30% increase from the previous 12 months. This itself represented a more than 80% rise from two years ago.

NHS gambling clinics
last year, the nhs saw a record number of patients referred for gambling treatment

“Record numbers of people are coming to the NHS for help to treat their gambling addiction, a cruel disease which has the power to destroy people’s lives,” said Pritchard.

“Adapting to new healthcare needs”

The NHS executive made the announcement ahead of the organisation’s seventy-fifth birthday on 5 July. Pritchard said that the move demonstrated the NHS was “adapting to new healthcare needs”.

“In 1948 when the NHS was founded, you had to go to a bookies to place a bet, but now people can gamble on their phone at the touch of a button and everyone, young and old, is bombarded with adverts encouraging them to take part.

nhs england ceo amanda pritchard

“As it has done since 1948, the NHS is responding at speed and rolling out seven new gambling harms clinics across England, so that even more people can be supported by the NHS in their time of need.”

The country’s existing gambling-harms clinics currently see patients in Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Telford and London. This is on top of an additional national clinic, also based in London, which treats children and young people.

NHS gambling addiction clinics

The clinics treat people with serious addiction issues through a mix of cognitive behavioural therapy, family therapy, support groups and aftercare. The NHS teams at the centres will include psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, as well as peer support workers.

The NHS said it plans to treat up to 3,000 patients nationwide across its network of 15 clinics, which it characterised as fulfilling its Long Term Plan commitment six months ahead of schedule.

In addition to the new clinics, the UK is currently engaged in the process of updating its gambling laws. After a number of delays, the government recently published a white paper which lays out several recommendations about how the country’s gambling laws should be “updated for the digital age”.

NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch said: “Addiction is a cruel disease that can take over and ruin lives, whether it be destroying finances or ruining relationships, but the NHS is here to help, so if you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction please come forward.

NHS gambling clinics
the uk is currently in the process of reforming its gambling laws

“Although progress has been made on clamping down on this billion-pound industry with the government’s white paper, I hope further action can be taken to protect our young people and future generations from being bombarded by gambling advertisement while watching sport.”

Murdoch has long been a critic of the gambling industry. In January 2020, she sent a series of letters to the chiefs of the UK’s largest gaming operators about the link between gambling and mental health.

Number of problem gamblers

The NHS highlighted Gambling Commission statistics which indicate that around 138,000 people suffer from problem gambling in England, or 0.3% of the population. There is some dispute about the accuracy of these figures, with some sources such as YouGov polling showing that the number could be as large as 2.8 million.

The NHS’ own recently released 2021 Health Survey for England recorded a fall in problem gambling rate to 0.4%, above what the Commission recorded for the year.

As a result, the Commission is currently involved in the process of reforming its harms survey methodology, with the latest milestone of project completed in April.     

NHS backs statutory levy

Among other proposals, the gambling white paper included the imposition of a statutory levy on the profits of the gambling sector to fund research, education and treatment services. The measure would replace the sector’s current voluntary contributions.  

While rumoured to be set at 1% of revenue prior to release of the document, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport opted not to commit to a specific number. Instead it opted to allow the final figure to be decided in a consultation between the government and industry at a later date.

Last month, the NHS came out in support of the measure. NHS England’s National Clinical Advisor on gambling harms Henrietta Bowden-Jones emphasised that the levy would help ensure independent funding for programmes,

“We have taken firm action to tackle gambling-related harms through our white paper, which includes our commitment to introduce a statutory levy so gambling companies pay their fair share towards the costs of treatment services,” said public health minister Neil O’ Brien.

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