Miércoles 30 de Julio de 2008, Ip nº 240

First free NHS clinic for gambling addicts opens
Por Jerome Taylor

The first NHS clinic offering free treatment for gamblers will open in September in what campaigners are hailing as a landmark development in the fight against the growing addiction to traditional and online betting.

An estimated 600,000 people have an unhealthy relationship with gambling, but the few clinics able to treat them are either run by charities or are private and charge large sums of money – something addicts have very little of.

If the new Soho Problem Gambling Clinic in central London is successful, campaigners hope it will encourage the Government to consider opening more specialised centres at a time when councils are bidding to build 16 new casinos.

The clinic will treat people referred from across Britain and will specialise in those with "co-morbidities" – patients whose gambling addiction is accompanied by acute mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.

The pilot scheme will be operated by the Central and North-West London NHS Foundation and led by Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, an expert in treating gambling addicts.

Dr Bowden-Jones said yesterday: "It has caused a lot of excitement because it has made people think about whether we should have more of these types of clinics around the country."

She explained that it was particularly important to offer gambling addicts free treatment because the nature of their obsession often meant their finances were in bad shape.

In an equally significant development, funding for the new clinic will come predominantly from the gaming industry's Responsibility in Gambling Trust – an independent body set up five years ago to channel donations from casino operators and bookmakers back into addiction and awareness programmes.

Last year, the British Medical Association voiced concerns about the increase in gambling addiction and called on the Government to make it a condition treatable on the NHS. Doctors also suggested that the gaming industry should provide £10m a year to pay for treatment.

Adrian Scarfe, the head of clinical services at Gamcare, a gambling addiction charity which is also involved in the new clinic, said the opening of an NHS service was a step in the right direction.

"Virtually all the work that is being done to combat gambling addiction is done entirely through the voluntary sector," he added. "Up until recently, the Department of Health and the NHS have not really noticed how much of a problem gambling addiction is."

Last year, Gamcare counsellors dealt with 38,000 calls from people affected by gambling addiction. The highest concentration of callers came from London, the South-east of England and the North-west.

  18/07/2008. The Independent.