Leeds has been chosen as the home of England’s first NHS clinic outside London for people suffering from gambling addiction.
The clinic will see psychiatrists and clinical psychologists working with patients whose lives are being wrecked by “severe or complex” issues with gambling.
The newly-announced green light for the scheme follows research that showed the rate of problem gambling in Leeds is roughly twice the national average.
Leeds Beckett University’s research also found that as many as eight per cent of people in the city are either problem or ‘at risk’ gamblers.
The NHS Northern Gambling Clinic is due to start operating at an as-yet-unconfirmed location in Leeds in April and will receive £1.2m in funding each year from the GambleAware charity.
Services will be delivered by the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and GamCare, described as a “leading provider of information, advice, support and free counselling” on problem gambling.
Matt Gaskell, a consultant psychologist for addiction services at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Gambling addiction has a devastating effect on people’s lives and those around them, including their loved ones.
“Those diagnosed with gambling disorder often need help with a range of difficulties, including mental health problems.
“It can lead to serious debt and family breakdown, people losing their jobs, people turning to crime in desperation for funds, and even suicide.
“In fact, of all the addictions people suffer from, gambling has the highest suicide rate.”
Mr Gaskell, who will be the clinical lead at the new centre, added: “I have been campaigning for many years to set up an NHS service to help those affected by serious gambling disorder.
“I’m looking forward to getting this service up and running so we can start turning lives around.”
Plans are already in place for smaller satellite units to be opened in other key locations across the North as part of the scheme.
Training and support will be given to primary care and council workers, with efforts being made to reach out into the community to help groups of people – such as those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds – who are traditionally less likely to get treatment for gambling addiction.
GambleAware chief executive Marc Etches said: “Our aim is to stop people getting into problems with their gambling, and to ensure those that do develop problems receive fast and effective treatment and support.
“We look forward to developing the new partnership and are grateful for the enthusiasm within Leeds City Council for helping to make this innovative proposal successful.”
The Leeds Beckett research was carried out by Dr Alexandra Kenyon with colleague Dr Neil Ormerod.
Dr Kenyon said: “The new gambling clinic has the potential to save lives.
“During our research, gamblers explained how they hid their addiction from family and friends.
“They confessed that they would gamble away grocery money or even their entire wages.
“Tragically, people with severe gambling addictions have been known to take their lives in the face of spiralling debts.
“Hopefully, the new clinic based in Leeds will provide much-needed support for problem gamblers – it’s a massive step forward.”
News of the go-ahead for the clinic was welcomed by Coun Debra Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities.
Coun Coupar said: “I am delighted to see that hard work done by partners across the city has led to the decision to base a treatment service for problem gamblers in Leeds, where we have a national reputation for positive work in this area.
“Problem gambling can damage people’s lives and impact negatively on their relationships and the communities around them.
“We need a sustainable and responsive approach to the growing needs of problem gamblers and we very much welcome the decision of GambleAware to fund this service.”
It is estimated that 430,000 people nationwide have a gambling problem while another two million are at risk of developing one.
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch quit the Government in protest last week after Chancellor Philip Hammond announced that a reduction in the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals would not be introduced until next October.