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 One in 200 problem gamblers in England get specialist treatment 07/02/24
• Office for Health Improvement and Disparities say that 1.6 million people could benefit from help - NICE says Health professionals should ask people about gambling if they attend a health check or GP appointment with a mental health problem
Only one in 200 people who engage in harmful gambling are benefiting from specialist treatment to combat addiction, according to an analysis of new data. Figures published by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities earlier this month estimated there are almost 1.6 million adults in England who participate in harmful gambling and may benefit from support or treatment.

In 2022/2023, the National Gambling Treatment Service, now known as the National Gambling Support Network, treated 6,645 individuals in England, Scotland and Wales, with services commissioned by the charity GambleAware. In addition, there were 1,389 referrals to NHS gambling harms services.

The figures do not include early interventions or the provision of advice, but indicate the small proportion of problem gamblers who are getting the treatment they require.

According to the Office for HID the majority of the 1.6 million, (970,000), might benefit from a ‘level 2 intensity’ treatment, which typically involves 2 or 3 sessions of motivational interviewing delivered by gambling-specialist practitioners. Around 243,000 adults might benefit from a ‘level 4 intensity’ treatment, which typically involves 8 to 14 sessions of psychologist-led cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for gambling disorder.

Almost 40,000 adults might benefit from the most intensive type of treatment, which typically involves a 12-week residential treatment programme including one-to-one therapy and group sessions. Clinical practitioners should consider the appropriateness of this type of support on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the adult’s personal circumstances.

The new figures come as the government concluded its consultation on a new statutory levy for the gambling industry to raise funds for research and the prevention and treatment of gambling addiction. The new levy will be collected and managed by the Gambling Commission, the industry regulator. It is expected to raise about £100m a year by 2027.

Charles Ritchie, co-chair of the charity Gambling with Lives, which supports families bereaved by gambling-related suicide, said the statutory levy would need to significantly increase to combat the scale of problem gambling: “We face an unprecedented crisis in the UK where more people than ever are harmed by a gambling industry making huge profits from its most addictive products.”

He said the harm was compounded because so few people were getting the support they needed.

Gambling with Lives’ submission to the government consultation says that there should be an initial goal of access to treatment for at least a fifth of those who need it. “If the levy is going to be effective, then it would need to deliver significantly greater funds to the treatment system,” says its submission. “Expenditure on treatment for drug and alcohol harms are many orders of magnitude greater than what is being suggested for gambling.”

There has been a significant variation in the estimates of the number of problem gamblers. The Gambling Commission has previously said rates of problem gambling may be as low as 0.3% of adults in Great Britain, but experimental survey data published by the regulator last month showed rates may be eight times higher than previously thought. The data based on an updated methodology suggest as many as 2.5% of adults may be suffering from problem gambling.

Judith Bruney, whose son Chris Bruney, 25, a gambling addict, took his life in April 2017, said last week that it was vital more gambling addiction services were available in the NHS. She said she considered her son had been failed by what she considered inadequate treatment services provided by a charity and funded by the betting industry. “If there had been a proper NHS-commissioned treatment available to Chris, I believe he would still be with us,” she said.

The government has been rolling out clinics to help people with gambling addictions. The NHS plans to treat up to 3,000 patients annually across 15 clinics, which will cost about £6.5m a year to run. The levy will also establish uniform treatment standards, with robust integration between the NHS and third sector.

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “We are committed to protecting those most at risk of gambling harm, which is why we are introducing a statutory levy to ensure gambling operators pay their fair share. The government and Gambling Commission will collect and disperse the estimated £100m levy which will greatly improve resource allocation for research, prevention and treatment services.

“The levy will deliver substantial funding to create a more effective, integrated treatment system between the NHS and third-sector providers so that anyone can access support when they need.”

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), a membership organisation for the gambling industry, said: “BGC supports a new mandatory levy – indeed we proposed this to the government ahead of the publication of the white paper. The level of funding required will be set by the government as part of their consultation, not by the BGC.

“In our response to the consultation we have asked the government to set a clear timetable so that all existing service providers, including vital third-sector providers, have the certainty they need to deliver their services and programmes.”

New NICE draft guidance on identifying, assessing and managing harmful gambling published : Health professionals should ask people about gambling if they attend a health check or GP appointment with a mental health problem, in a similar way to how people are asked about their smoking and alcohol consumption, according to new draft guidance from NICE.

NICE has identified that when people present at appointments with depression, anxiety, or thoughts about self-harm or suicide or in relation to a possible addiction (for example, alcohol or drug misuse) they may be at increased risk of harm from gambling and NICE recommends this needs to be identified and addressed by healthcare professionals.

People should be encouraged to assess the severity of their gambling by completing a questionnaire available on the NHS website. This is based on the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI), a standardised measure for at-risk behaviour. A score of 8 or above indicates that they may need to seek support and treatment from a specialist gambling treatment service while those with lower scores may also benefit from available support.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at