New NHS Guidance Urges UK Doctors to Ask Patients About Gambling

  • UK patients will need to assess gambling habits through an NHS questionnaire
  • 300,000 UK adults are problem gamblers, according to a government review
  • The new guidance comes off the back of the white paper, published in April 
Doctor with clipboard and pen
UK doctors should ask patients about problem gambling as they would about alcohol, drugs, and smoking, according to new draft guidance in the UK. [Image:]

New guidance issued

Doctors are being urged to ask patients about problem gambling, according to new draft guidance for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

In the same way that patients are asked about alcohol, drugs, and smoking, they should be asked about problem gambling, the guidance explains. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), people who use the NHS in England for anxiety, depression, or thoughts about self-harm or suicide have a greater risk of gambling-related harm.

“Harmful gambling causes immense misery to all those who experience it,” said Professor Jonathan Benger, the Chief Medical Officer and Interim Director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE. He added:

We want those needing help or who are at risk to be identified sooner and receive appropriate help.”

In the new guidelines, NICE suggests doctors should ask patients about their gambling habits to determine how they are coping. Patients should also be encouraged to assess their gambling by answering a questionnaire on the NHS website.

Those who score eight or higher should seek help. A consultation on the draft guidance will run on Wednesday, November 15.

An important step

Since 2019, NHS England has opened up 12 gambling clinics across the country, with plans to open three more. As part of the organization’s long-term plan, it’s aiming to help 3,000 people a year across all the clinics.

These clinics come at a time when gambling addiction is rising in the country. In July, it was reported that a record 1,389 people were referred for treatment last year, up from 1,013 in 2022 and 775 in 2021, representing a 79% increase in just two years.

With gambling-related harm estimated to cost England £1.27bn ($1.54bn) a year, this new draft guidance from NICE is “an important step,” according to Fiona Macleod, the Director of Services at the charity GamCare, which runs the National Gambling Helpline. She said healthcare professionals can play a significant role in ensuring people find the support they need with problem gambling.

A UK government review found that 300,000 UK adults are problem gamblers. It also discovered that men are more likely to gamble than women. In regard to online gambling, 15% of men participate, compared to 4% of women.

Gambling reform

The new draft guidance comes shortly after the UK government released its much-anticipated gambling reform white paper in April.

designed to bring the Gambling Act into the modern day

Changing the basis of gambling laws established in 2005, the white paper sets out new rules for gambling firms designed to bring the Gambling Act into the modern day. One of the new rules includes an online slot limit of between £2 ($2.40) and £15 ($18) per spin.

Average loss background checks when a player hits a net loss of £125 ($151) per month or £500 ($600) per year are also included in the white paper. Detailed affordability checks will take place at loss thresholds of £1,000 ($1,212) within 24 hours or £2,000 ($2,425) within a 90-day period.

Speaking of the new draft guidelines, Macleod added: “We believe these recommendations, if implemented, will present a greater opportunity to prevent gambling harms from occurring in the UK.”

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