Lessons to be learned from alcohol regarding public health

Lessons to be learned from alcohol regarding public health

Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Report detailing cost of problem gambling intended to generate debate

A senior figure in social responsibility is hoping that a headline grabbing report into the potential costs of problem gambling on the public purse will help push forward discussion on the issue.

The report, commissioned by problem gambling trust GambleAware, estimates that problem gamblers cost the government between £260m and £1.2bn per year and Dr Simon Tanner, former Director of Public Health for London and member of the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, believes that lessons can now be learned from other industries about how to move forward.

He explained: “The costing of alcohol-related harm five years ago was a powerful tool in stimulating a collaborative public health approach to tackling this serious problem. I hope that this report kick starts the conversation about gambling-related harm in the same way. Whilst not a full cost benefit analysis, these conservative estimates of fiscal expenditure help to make the case for a more joined up, collaborative response.”

The research suggests the areas that end up needing more public expenditure, the vast majority of which is in the health service, but there are also associated costs in housing, welfare and employment, and criminal justice.

In health alone, the report suggests that problem gambling costs hospital inpatient services between £140m–£610m, mental health primary care between £10m–£40m and secondary mental health services between £30m–£110m.

Marc Etches, CEO of GambleAware, said: “Problem gambling is an issue which affects millions of people across Britain each day. We’re working hard to raise awareness of the issue and to help people see the true cost of gambling addiction. GambleAware is keen to put problem gambling on the public health agenda, as it’s no different to any other kind of addiction. It’s our job to raise awareness of the issue and to let people know that there is help available.”

Meanwhile Craig Thorley, research fellow from IPPR which wrote the report, said: “For many, problem gambling is a hidden addiction. IPPR’s research shows the scale of the challenge for Britain’s public services for the first time. This should be a wakeup call to government. We need a proper strategy to deal with this issue, just like we’ve had for other public health issues such as alcoholism.

“This strategy must make sure that effective services are available to help those affected, and also consider whether we have the right regulations and prevention strategies in place to stop those at risk of problem gambling from being pulled over the edge.”

The NHS has long washed its hands of problem gambling, which is perhaps understandable given the huge funding issues it has elsewhere, but it seems that the scale of the problem is one that now demands the thistle is grasped.

That seems to be the view of Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director and lead clinician at the Central and North West London (CNWL) NHS National Problem Gambling Clinic.

She said: “The health costs highlighted here are a significant call to action. There are no NICE guidelines for problem gambling and low awareness amongst the wider public health community of screening tools and treatment services, so I think calling this a “hidden addiction” is justified.

"Problem Gambling is an addiction and as such needs to be considered with the same level of evidence base we apply to other medical illnesses. We would like to see more NHS involvement to support the work GambleAware are doing in providing adequate national treatment to problem gamblers.”

Totally Gaming says: The report may have been intended to highlight to the government where it could be spending more of its gambling taxation but instead the upper end of that huge variance between £260 million and £1.2bn is being used as headlines against the industry at a vital time. Obviously it is extremely tricky to calculate the cost of dealing with problem gambling, but the vast difference between the bottom and top ends of the estimate make it difficult to digest. 

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