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Academics call for NHS gambling treatment clinics in Wales

Swansea University academics have called for NHS gambling disorder treatment clinics to be established in Wales, as a letter published in The Lancet reveals the serious impact of problem gambling in Wales, particularly amongst younger people. 

They also suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic could result in an upturn in gambling in Wales, leading to an increased need for effective treatment for those experiencing gambling-related harm.

Academics from Swansea University’s Department of Psychology led the call with members of the Gambling Research, Education and Treatment (GREAT) Network Wales to outline research showing that people in Wales are particularly vulnerable to problem gambling.

According to the Welsh Problem Gambling Survey (2016), 3.8% of the population were identified as either problem gamblers or in the at risk category of gamblers, with those at greatest risk of gambling related harm being aged between16 and 24.

Research also indicates that problem gambling in Wales stems from a complex range of issues having negative social impact with an estimated public cost of between £40-70m per year.

The letter highlights that Public Health Wales has estimated that the most deprived communities of Wales are increasingly vulnerable to gambling-related harms, based on such factors such as:

  • local population numbers.
  • availability of treatment services.
  • distance from treatment sites.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also had an impact, with a Gambling Commission survey finding 24% of respondents from Wales reported spending increased time and/or money on one or more gambling activities.

The letter does acknowledge that both the Welsh Government and the Chief Medical Officer for Wales have prioritised tackling the harm produced by gambling disorder and taken steps to minimise the public health consequences by providing of free online counselling for people with gambling problems and improving the links with support for people undergoing treatment for substance misuse, among other initiatives.

Pilot studies for the early identification and intervention for gambling problems and the development of treatment referral pathways are also underway in two health boards in Wales, while research on gambling has a growing base in Welsh universities.

Professor Simon Dymond of Swansea University and Director of the GREAT Network Wales said: “Despite all this positive activity in Wales, it is very disappointing to note that there are currently no NHS-funded gambling disorder clinics here, while there are currently six NHS gambling clinics in England, with a further seven planned.”

The absence of local NHS treatment provision inevitably leads to knock-on referrals elsewhere. These include:

  • Since January 2017, there have been 18 referrals from Wales to the National Problem Gambling Clinic in London, which is just over 1% of all clinic referrals.
  • Between 2015 and 2018, 4% of callers to the National Gambling Helpline gave a Welsh postcode.
  • Clients from Wales seen by GamCare’s network of partners has increased from 213 (2018-2019) to 285 (2019-2020 – which includes both those with gambling problems and affected others.
  • Other local treatment settings, such as The Living Room Cardiff’s Beat The Odds service, has seen a total caseload of 142 individuals since 2015.

Professor Dymond said: “The need for NHS-funded gambling disorder services in Wales is stark, and we urgently call on the Welsh Government to use its devolved authority to address this anomaly.”

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