Gambling addiction: Experts call for clinic in Wales

By Ben Price
BBC News

Media caption,
Gambling addiction is "integrated into society"

There are calls for a specialist gambling addiction clinic to be run by the NHS in Wales.

Medical experts and academics have signed a letter urging the Welsh Government to take action.

There are six NHS-funded gambling disorder clinics in England, with more due to open, but none in Wales.

The Welsh Government said it was developing pilot projects in two health board areas to explore how people with gambling problems could be supported.

Simon Dymond from Swansea University's department of psychology said a "significant majority" of people with existing problems had been "spending more time gambling online and they're spending more money" during the pandemic.

"We also know that young people, aged 18 to 24, are particularly at risk of increased vulnerability of developing a gambling problem during the lockdown," he said.

Prof Dymond wrote the letter, which has been endorsed by other specialists including Henrietta Bowden-Jones, who set up England's first NHS-run clinic in west London.

It has been published in the Lancet medical journal.

"The time is right, I think, to call on the Welsh Government to consider the NHS provision for gambling clinics here in Wales," said Prof Dymond.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A cross-party group of Members of the Senedd have endorsed calls for a specialist clinic

The letter said a number of people with a gambling addiction have been referred to NHS clinics in England due to a lack of provision in Wales.

GamCare, one of the UK's support services for gamblers, said its network of providers had seen an increase in the number of people from Wales accessing helplines and support services over the past two years.

And a recent Gambling Commission survey found that 24% of respondents from Wales reported spending increased time and/or money on one or more gambling activities.

Wales' chief medical officer Frank Atherton has previously said problem gambling is a public health issue.

Gambling 'led me down some really dark places'

Nick Phillips from Swansea has overcome a gambling addiction which made him bankrupt twice and caused him to attempt suicide on two occasions.

He is now studying for a degree and hopes to support others with an addiction.

"It led me down some really dark places," he said. "It seriously affected my mental health.

"I deteriorated to such a level where I was failing my kids, failing my wife, failing my family and failing my friends and myself."

He said support group Gamblers Anonymous was "part of what saved my life".

"It's great to have peer support with like-minded people giving advice and support," he said.

"But if there was a gambling clinic in Wales I definitely would have contacted them and looked for further support."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Welsh Government says two pilot schemes are being developed

Wynford Ellis Owen, a specialist addictions consultant with the charity Cais in Cardiff, said "problem gambling now is where alcohol misuse was in the '50s and '60s".

"We really have to confront that and encourage people to come forward," he said.

"And I think having the service delivered by the NHS would open the door for many more people who are suffering in silence."

The calls for a specialist clinic in Wales have been endorsed by members of the Senedd's cross-party group on problem gambling.

Chairman Mick Antoniw said: "The impact of Covid-19 with people spending more time at home has super-charged the problem, with online gambling increasing by more than 40% and almost a quarter of the Welsh population saying they have spent more time gambling during lockdown.

"I've written to the first minister in support of the call from leading Welsh academics for specialist treatment facilities in Wales.

"There's only one outcome of the increase in gambling and that's an increase in gambling addiction and the social and economic problems and ruined lives that follow."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "We are developing pilots in two health board areas which will explore how people with gambling problems could be supported by NHS services.

"These will take a person-centred approach, as set out in A Healthier Wales, and will include discussions about the potential for a gambling-specific clinic to be opened in Wales."

Information and support on addiction and its effects is available from the BBC Action Line

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