The first NHS gambling clinic for children is opening amid growing concern that the rise of online gaming sites and targeted adverts is fuelling a problem among young people.
There are 55,000 children classed as having a gambling problem in Britain, according to the Gambling Commission, which also found that 450,000 are gambling regularly – more than those who have taken drugs, drunk alcohol or smoked.
Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive, said: “This action shows just how seriously the NHS takes the threat of gambling addiction, even in young people.
“The links between problem gambling and stress, depression and mental health problems are growing and there are too many stories of lives lost and families destroyed.”
Stevens noted that the gambling industry spends £1.5bn on marketing and advertising campaigns, but it has been spending just a fraction of that helping people deal with addiction.
Hundreds of thousands of people in England have a serious problem with gambling, with an additional 2 million at risk of developing a disorder.
The move was welcomed by Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East, who said attitudes around problem gambling was at last shifting. “For too long the industry has dismissed problem gambling but now is the time for polluters to pay,” she said.
“This move to help young people afflicted with this problem is welcome. But the industry really needs to be chastised for their open and blatant exploitation of gambling addicts of all ages.”
However, Liz Ritchie from Gambling with Lives, a charity set up by families bereaved by gambling-related suicide said that while the organisation supported the plans it was not enough.
“We are on the brink of an epidemic fuelled by industrialised gambling and addicts are 15 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Increased voluntary contributions proposed by some gambling companies will not provide the sustained independent funding needed by the NHS. People are dying – bereaved families call on the government to introduce a mandatory levy on the industry’s £14.5bn profits a year.”
The clinic will open as part of a new network of services for addicts being rolled out as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. Specialist face-to-face NHS treatment for gambling addiction has only been available in London but is being made available across the country as part of the new strategy, NHS England said.
Up to 14 new NHS clinics are being opened – starting with the NHS Northern Gambling Service in Leeds this summer, followed by clinics in Manchester and Sunderland. The National Problem Gambling Clinic in London will also offer specialist help for children and young people aged 13 to 25.