Betting firms could be taxed to pay for gambling addiction treatment, the head of the NHS has said, warning “the sums don’t add up” when it comes to the human cost.
Online gaming sites and targeted adverts could be fuelling addiction even in children, Simon Stevens has said, ahead of the creation of a new support service for Yorkshire.
The chief executive of NHS England, condemning the “fraction” spent by industry on support when compared to advertising and marketing, warned more accountability must be held.
“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,” adds Mr Stevens.
“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.”
Amplified in Leeds
Across Great Britain, it is estimated that 430,000 people have a gambling problem, yet fewer than two per cent are receiving treatment.
The challenge is amplified in Leeds, where a recent study found the rate of problem gambling is twice the national average, with an estimated 13,000 people affected.
Across the city, between seven and eight per cent of the population are either problem or risk gamblers, the study from Leeds Beckett University found, prompting the launch of a new NHS Leeds Gambling Support Hub to be opened in the city this summer.
This will be the first of its kind outside London, followed by further clinics in Manchester and Sunderland, staffed by psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.
Marketing campaigns at £1.5bn
Mr Stevens, speaking as the NHS announced a further service aimed specifically at younger people, cited figures from the Gambling Commission which estimates there are 55,000 children with a gambling problem.
In an industry which spends £1.5bn on marketing campaigns, he said, just a fraction was allocated to help customers and their families.
“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,” said Mr Stevens.
“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.”
Gambling firms have recently offered to increase contributions to help problem gamblers but the Gambling Commission says a mandatory system would increase funding from about £12m to at least £70m a year.
In a report published by the commission last winter, it was found that young people aged 11 to 16 were more likely to have spent their own money on gambling than they were to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or take drugs.
“We know too many young people face their lives being blighted by problem gambling - so these new clinics will also look at what more can be done to help them.” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.