The first NHS gambling clinic for children will open this year as part of a new network of services for addicts being rolled out.
Hundreds of thousands of people in England have a serious problem with gambling, with an additional two million at risk of developing a disorder.
The number of children classed as having a gambling problem is 55,000, according to the Gambling Commission.
The Commission also found that 450,000 are gambling regularly, more than those who have taken drugs, drunk alcohol or smoked.
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.
Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said: “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. This action shows just how seriously the NHS takes the threat of gambling addiction, even in young people, but 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. This is an industry that splashes £1.5 billion on marketing and advertising campaigns, much of it now pumped out online and through social media, but it has been spending just a fraction of that helping customers and their families deal with the direct consequences of addiction.”
“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.”
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health 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. There is already a big push to transform mental health services across the board for children and young people and the specific focus on gambling related addiction is the logical next step, particularly given the explosion of online gambling.”
Dr Matthew Gaskell, consultant psychologist and clinical lead for addictions at Leeds and York Partnership Foundation NHS Trust said “This is the first time that the NHS has funded gambling addiction treatment in the north of England. The NHS Northern Gambling Service can now reach many more individuals and their families, so they can get help with this devastating problem. It will save lives.”