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Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2007, 13:19 GMT
Call for better NHS gambling help
Poker hand
The Gambling Act comes into force in September
Gambling therapy must be made routinely available on the NHS, doctors say.

The British Medical Association report is warning that the forthcoming relaxation in the laws may prompt a rise in problem gamblers.

Doctors said therapy was patchy with many addiction services not screening people for gambling and the industry must invest 10m a year into research.

But the government said NHS services had a long history of helping people with gambling addictions.

The Gambling Act is due to come into force in September, which paves the way for a host of new casinos, including the controversial "super-casino".

There needs to be treatment for problem gambling available on the NHS similar to drug and alcohol services
Vivienne Nathanson, of the BMA

Seven in 10 adults gamble each year, helping to sustain a 9bn industry.

Research has shown that there are 300,000 problem gamblers, where their addiction can have an impact on their physical and mental health, employment, finances and relationships.

Young gamblers

The report expressed particular concern about adolescent problem gamblers.

It calls for a review on whether slot machine gambling should be prohibited to anyone under 18.

It said fruit machine addiction can lead to behavioural problems such as truanting, stealing and aggressive behaviour.

It is important for GPs and other health professionals to be trained how to identify problem gamblers
Malcolm Bruce
Responsibility in Gambling Trust

Studies have shown that gambling among young people often goes hand-in-hand with other addictive activities such as drug taking and alcohol abuse and has been linked to juvenile crime.

The BMA said at the moment treatment services were patchy with many services not offering gambling support.

Doctors said people going through drug and alcohol addiction services should be routinely offered gambling screening and tailored services if necessary.

The BMA also called for the industry to pay at least 10m per year through the Responsibility in Gambling Trust to fund research, prevention and treatment programmes and warn customers of the risk of addition.

BMA head of science and ethics Dr Vivienne Nathanson said: "Problem gambling is associated with a number of health problems and the BMA is concerned that there are insufficient treatment facilities available.

"Psychological problems can include anxiety, depression, guilt and suicidal thoughts.

"Relationships with family and friends can also be affected by gambling, sometimes leading to separation and divorce.

'Remote gambling'

"There needs to be treatment for problem gambling available on the NHS similar to drug and alcohol services."

Professor Mark Griffiths, from Nottingham Trent University's International Gaming Research Unit and a contributor to the BMA report, added he was particularly worried about "remote gambling" via the internet, mobile phones and TV.

"Online gambling in the UK has doubled since 2001 and further research in this area should be seen as a priority."

But a Department of Health spokeswoman said services were there for gambling addicts.

"Anybody with a gambling problem who seeks help from the NHS will be offered support and, if necessary, treatment to help them overcome their addiction.

"Specialised addiction services have a long history of helping people with gambling problems."

And she added officials were liaising with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and "to ensure that efforts in this area are coordinated".

Malcolm Bruce, director of the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, which is overwhelmingly funded by the gambling industry to fund research and services, said: "Over the last three years we have invested 5m into services and research and are planning to increase that in the future.

"But I also think it is important for GPs and other health professionals to be trained how to identify problem gamblers."

Hugo Swire, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, said the government's gambling reforms were supposed to tackle problem gambling and organised crime, but in fact were likely to make it worse.

"It seems astonishing that Tessa Jowell is prepared to ignore these concerns in her desire to make Britain a haven for gambling."

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