NHS to open first clinic for children with gambling problems
The NHS will open the first gambling clinic for children this year as part of a new network of services for addicts.
The ground-breaking move, which NHS England's national director for mental health Claire Murdoch claimed could be a "major turning point", comes amid growing concern about problem gambling.
The Gambling Commission has classed 55,000 children as having a gambling problem and found that 450,000 are gambling regularly – more than those who have taken drugs, drunk alcohol or smoked.
However, the industry regulator said in a report last year that children's most common gambling activities were often activities outside their direct control, including bets between friends, lottery scratch cards purchased by parents and playing of fruit machines in pubs. Underage gambling activity was less prevalent at licensed premises such as betting shops, bingo halls and casinos.
Specialist face-to-face NHS treatment for gambling addiction has only been available in London, but it is being made available across the country as part of its 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.
Murdoch 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."
Health secretary Matt Hancock added: "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."
Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said the new initiative underlined how seriously the NHS takes the threat of gambling addiction but called upon bookmakers to do more and added his voice to those raising the possibility a mandatory levy on operators to fund treatment.
He said: "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."
He added: "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."
Last week five of Britain's biggest gambling operators agreed to significantly increase the amount they contribute to treatment and research of problem gambling.
If you are concerned about your gambling and are worried you may have a problem, click here to find advice on how you can receive help