Gambling Treatment MUST Be Available On The NHS, Say Doctors

In its hard-hitting report, Gambling addiction and its treatment within the NHS, the BMA is calling for gambling to be a recognised addiction that requires treatment on the NHS.

This recommendation is part of a tough set of proposals aimed at helping healthcare professionals deal effectively with the growing problem of gambling addiction in the UK. The report is timely given the 2005 Gambling Act is due to come into force this September. The new UK legislation will increase gambling facilities and subsequently problem gambling may rise too – health professionals must be prepared for this.

The BMA is particularly worried about adolescent problem gamblers and the report is calling for a review on whether slot machine gambling should be prohibited to anyone under 18.

Fruit machine addiction can lead to behavioural problems such as truanting, stealing and aggressive behaviour. Studies have shown that gambling among young people often goes hand in hand with other addictive activities such as drug taking and alcohol abuse and has been linked to juvenile crime.

The BMA Head of Science and Ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said today: “Problem gambling is associated with a number of health problems and the BMA is concerned that there are insufficient treatment facilities available. Psychological problems can include anxiety, depression, guilt and suicidal thoughts. Relationships with family and friends can also be affected by gambling, sometimes leading to separation and divorce.

“There needs to be treatment for problem gambling available on the NHS similar to drug and alcohol services. The BMA is calling on the Gaming Industry to pay at least £10m per annum via the Responsibility in Gambling Trust to fund research, prevention and intervention programmes.”

Contributing author of the report, Professor Mark Griffiths of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, sees remote gambling as another cause for concern. This includes gambling via the internet, mobile phone and interactive television gambling. He said that: “Online gambling in the UK has doubled since 2001 and further research in this area should be seen as a priority.”

Particular problems with remote gambling include:

  • the availability of ‘virtual cash‘ – for most gamblers electronic [e-cash] will be easier to part with than ‘real’ cash
  • unlimited access and anonymity – there will be no ‘closing time’, a user will be able to gamble privately around the clock
  • increased odds of winning practice modes – research shows that it is significantly more common to win while playing on a ‘demo’ or ‘free play’ game, once gamblers start to play for real with real money, the odds of winning are considerably reduced.
  • the internet also provides online customer tracking, this is worrying as operators could end up knowing more about the gambler’s playing behaviour than the gamblers themselves.

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • Treatment for problem gambling should be provided under the NHS.
  • Gambling operators and service providers should pay at least £10m per annum to fund research, prevention and intervention programmes.
  • Gambling operators and service providers should supply information on gambling addiction, treatment and services to patrons.
  • All adolescent problem gambling should be taken as seriously as adult problem gambling.
  • Research should be conducted into the association between internet gambling and problem gambling.
  • Some specific gambling options such as slot machines should be specifically reviewed to ensure they are not accessible to adolescents