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Guidance recommends GPs ask patients about gambling habits

| By Marese O'Hagan
New draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says general practitioners should ask those who present with mental health issues about their gambling habits.
NICE guidance gambling

The guidance was released for consultation today (5 October), with the consultation process closing 15 November.

It recommends that health and social care practitioners should ask about gambling when an individual presents with mental health concerns. This includes, but is not limited to, depression, anxiety, psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For GPs working in the judicial system, NICE recommends they ask people about their gambling behaviours each time they are in contact with the criminal justice system. This consists of contact with police, liaison and diversion services, probation services, courts and prisons.

Practitioners should also ask about gambling habits when they are in contact with people experiencing homelessness or financial concerns, as well as those with a family history of addiction.

The guidance was created by an independent committee, which included medical professionals and people with a lived experience of harm. Professor Jonathan Benger, chief medical officer and interim director for guidelines at NICE said the committee had analysed all available evidence to draw up the draft guidelines.

“[The committee] scrutinised all the available evidence to identify treatments and therapies that have been shown to work and offer good value for money,” said Benger. “The result is this useful and usable advice to help NHS clinics as they develop their service.” 

Those at increased risk

The guidance also recommends that practitioners discuss gambling habits with those who may be at increased risk. This includes those taking certain medications that may increase risk and those who have a neurological condition.

GPs are also encouraged to ask direct questions about gambling habits. They should also direct patients to the NHS website, where they can complete a harmful gambling questionnaire based on the problem gambling severity index. A score of 8 or over indicates that they may need support and treatment.

Will Prochaska, strategy director at charity Gambling With Lives, believes the draft guidance will aid those affected by gambling harm.

“This draft guidance will help support people who’ve been lured into harm by the gambling industry,” he said. “It’s essential healthcare professionals understand the risk gambling poses to their patients and know where to refer for evidence-based treatment.

“The government now needs to honour its commitment to consult on plans for the independent funding of treatment for gambling addiction.”

Claire Murdoch, NHS mental health director, said the organisation would work with NICE on the ongoing consultation process.

“We will work with NICE on this consultation process and while this new guidance will ensure the NHS can help even more people struggling with gambling addiction to receive evidenced-based treatment, it is vital that the billion-pound industry also takes action in line with the government’s white paper to stop people coming to harm in the first place,” she said.

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