NHS England’s chief executive has resurrected calls for a mandatory levy on gambling operators as plans for the UK’s first gambling clinic for children were unveiled.
Simon Stevens said operators are spending just a “fraction” of their revenue on assistance for those who develop gambling addictions and suggested further discussion over them being forced to do more.
The National Problem Gambling Clinic in London, which opened in 2008, will now offer specialist help for children and young people aged 13 to 25 as part of an expansion which will also ramp up treatment for adults.
It is being opened as part the NHS Long Term Plan, amid concerns that – according to Gambling Commission figures – 55,000 children may have a gambling problem while 450,000 are gambling regularly.
Stevens contrasted the amount spent by gambling operators on advertising compared with their contributions to assistance for gambling problems.
“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,” Stevens said.
“This is an industry that splashes £1.5bn on marketing and advertising campaigns, much of it now pumped out online and through social media, but it has been spending just a fraction of that helping customers and their families deal with the direct consequences of addiction.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
Up to 14 new NHS clinics are being opened as part of the NHS Long Term Plan – starting with the NHS Northern Gambling Service in Leeds this summer, followed by centres in Manchester and Sunderland.
NHS England said the development of new clinics should give people with gambling problems, faster access to specialist, evidence-based services.
The services will see psychiatrists and clinical psychologists working with patients whose lives are being impacted by severe or complex issues with gambling. Once referred to a clinic, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists will work with patients who could have a range of complex gambling related difficulties, including mental health difficulties and a lengthy period of problem gambling with little or no abstinence.
Stevens’ call comes days after five of the UK’s leading sports betting operators voluntarily agreed to increase funding for problem gambling treatment and safer gambling.
William Hill, Ladbrokes Coral owner GVC Holdings, Flutter Entertainment (formerly Paddy Power Betfair), The Stars Group-owned Sky Betting & Gaming and bet365 have agreed to increase their voluntary contribution from 0.1% to 1% of gross gaming yield in no more than five years.
As a result of the funding increase, voluntary levy will eventually raise £100m (€112.4m/$126.0m) each year for charities that provide treatment and support for those suffering from gambling-related harm. Last year, money raised through the levy fell short of its £10m target.
In April, gambling charity GambleAware called for UK operators to provide more financial support for its problem gambling treatment efforts after industry funding failed to meet its 2018-19 target. Voluntary donations from the industry during the 12 months to March 31, 2019 amounted to £9.6m, short of the £10m that trustees of the charity had asked of the market.
Speaking about the new clinic for children, Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “Protecting people, and particularly children, from gambling-related harm is vital. I have seen first hand the important work that these specialist clinics do and I am pleased that the NHS is expanding its support for young people.
“The gambling industry must be socially responsible and take all reasonable steps to keep people safe, including by increasing funding for research, education and treatment. My department is working with the industry towards a strong package of measures to ensure vulnerable people are protected.”