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NHS Expands Support For Gambling Addiction as Referrals Soar

Seven new gambling addiction clinics will open this summer as NHS services faced record demand. NHS England said that the NHS was adapting to "new healthcare needs" by "rapidly expanding" support services for thousands of people who experienced gambling-related harms.

There are eight NHS gambling harms clinics currently seeing patients – in London, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, and Telford, and also a national clinic in London where children and young people were treated for gambling and for gaming addiction. The seven new clinics would be in Milton Keynes, Thurrock, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, Blackpool, and Sheffield.

Making the announcement, NHS chief executive, Amanda Pritchard, described how accessibility to gambling had changed over the years. "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," she noted.

Record Numbers of Gambling-Related Referrals

According to Gambling Commission figures, around 138,000 people (0.3% of the population) were engaged in problem gambling, with around a further 1.3 million people (2.9% of the population) engaged in either moderate or low-risk gambling.

A record number of 1389 referrals to NHS gambling harms services had been made over the past year (2022/23), up by more than a third from the 1013 referrals in the previous year (2021/22), and up by almost 80% from 2020/21 when there were 775 referrals made.

"Record numbers of people are coming to the NHS for help to treat their gambling addiction, with referrals up by more than a third compared to last year," highlighted Ms Pritchard.

NHS Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch described addiction as a "cruel" disease that could take over and ruin lives.

According to the latest Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) report, The economic and social cost of harms associated with gambling in England, there could be up to almost 500 gambling-related suicides in England every year.

Sports Clubs Criticised

The NHS planned to treat up to 3000 patients a year across the 15 clinics, a spokesperson for NHS England said, so that more people could be supported in their time of need. 

Treatment would include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), family therapy, support groups, and aftercare, and would be delivered by teams that included psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, and peer support workers. Support would also be offered to patients' family members, partners, and carers.

The announcement came at a time when there had been severe criticism of football clubs, who NHS England warned should "think about the impact on fans when accepting sponsorships from gambling firms".

MS Pritchard said that shirt sponsorship deals sent a message to children that "gambling was OK".

The charity Gambling with Lives said that 105,000 UK children were addicted to gambling or at risk. The charity's Strategy Director, Will Prochaska, was heartened by the announcement of the new addiction facilities, and expressed that they "couldn't come at a more pertinent moment, whilst gambling advertising lures more people into harm".

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