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NHS launches new gambling addiction clinics to meet record demand

Posted on February 28th, 2022

The two new clinics, based in Southampton and Stoke-On-Trent, will open from May and mean there will be seven specialist clinics in place across England.

The other five NHS gambling addiction clinics in London, Leeds, Manchester, Sunderland and a national children and young person’s pilot clinic will inform the rollout of further gambling clinics when the services are evaluated later this year.

The north of England has the highest prevalence of at-risk gamblers, with 4.4% of adults in the North West and 4.9% in the North East being at the most risk of addiction.

Between April and December last year, 668 people with the most severe gambling addiction issues were referred to NHS gambling clinics – up from 575 during the same period in 2020 – a 16.2% increase.

The news comes alongside a letter from NHS mental health chief Claire Murdoch to GambleAware, confirming that the NHS will be fully funding its own gambling services from April – bringing the support in line with other NHS services.

The decision follows feedback from patients and clinicians opposing the conflict of interest from the gambling industry, which generates profits of over £14 billion a year in the UK, in funding treatment for addiction.

Research published by Public Health England (now the UK Health Security Agency) last September estimated around 0.5% of the adult population, around 246,000 people, are likely to have some form of gambling addiction with around 2.2 million people either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction.

NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch said: “Gambling addiction is a cruel mental health condition that can devastate people’s lives – our pilot clinics are already having a lasting impact in helping people to take back vital control of their lives.

“The opening of two new gambling clinics in May, as a part of our £2.3 billion investment into mental health services, will mean we can help even more people with the most serious gambling problems.

“It is also absolutely right that the NHS now funds these clinics independently, recognising the harmful effects this addiction can have on the nation’s mental health, and that predatory tactics from gambling companies are part of the problem, not the solution”.

Later this year the NHS will launch a new Gambling Harm Network and Clinical Reference Group, which will bring expertise together and enable clinical teams to share best practices for helping to treat gambling addiction.

Gambling addiction if it takes hold can destroy lives. Nick Firth, aged 31 from West Yorkshire, struggled with a gambling addiction for 12 years. Feeling ashamed to admit he had a problem, the addiction also took over his life to the extent he would beg, borrow, and steal money to fund it, straining relationships with family and friends.

Nick finally reached out for help from NHS gambling services during the peak of his addiction in January last year, when he felt suicide was the only way out. With his own NHS support worker, Nick underwent group cognitive behavioural therapy to help treat his addiction and as a result, hasn’t gambled since.

Nick said: “Gambling addiction took over my life to the extent I was suicidal and relationships with my family and friends had broken down.

“The team at the NHS gambling addiction service have helped completely turn my life around, engaging with NHS services is one of the best things I’ve ever done – it’s helped me get control of my life back and I’m rebuilding trust with my family and friends, once again having happy and healthy relationships with people close to me.

“Anybody out there who is struggling with addiction should know they are not alone, while there is no quick fix, there is help out there that can help treat your addiction and seeking help is the best thing you can do to help yourself get better”.

In January 2020, NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch wrote to gambling companies outlining actions they should take to improve the odds for people struggling with addiction. Other than the restriction of bets taken by credit cards, implemented when the Gambling Commission outlawed the practice, the gambling industry continues to offer customers VIP packages and streams live sports, all of which can be potentially harmful to those struggling with addiction.

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