In a bold move, the head of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, has called on football clubs to carefully consider the impact on their fans when entering into sponsorship agreements with gambling firms. Pritchard emphasizes that such deals send a detrimental message to children, normalizing the act of gambling. Her concerns are further fueled by the fact that the NHS is planning to increase the number of gambling addiction clinics to 15, following a surge in referrals.
Rising Demand for Gambling Support
In the fiscal year 2022-23, a staggering 1,389 individuals sought support for gambling addiction, marking a significant increase from the 775 referrals recorded two years prior. To address this escalating issue, the NHS is expanding its services by opening seven additional clinics this summer, in addition to the existing eight. This move aims to meet the growing demand for specialized gambling addiction treatment across the country.
A Call for Responsible Sponsorship
Speaking on the BBC Sunday program hosted by Laura Kuenssberg, Ms. Pritchard expressed her concerns, referring to severe gambling addiction as a “cruel disease” and a “life destroyer.” She urges both the gambling industry and football clubs to seriously consider their responsibilities in this matter. Pritchard specifically highlights how shirt sponsorship deals expose children to messages that normalize gambling, emphasizing the urgent need for responsible actions.
The Impact of Mobile Gambling
Ms. Pritchard draws attention to the accessibility of gambling through mobile phones, which allows individuals to place bets at any hour of the day. This ease of access has resulted in a substantial increase in the demand for NHS gambling addiction services. The implications of unrestricted mobile gambling have prompted the need for stronger support and intervention measures to address the resulting addiction.
A Growing Concern: Gambling Advertisements
In a separate statement announcing the new clinics, Ms. Pritchard points out that both children and adults are constantly bombarded with gambling advertisements. This concerning trend prompted the NHS to take proactive measures to expand its addiction clinics and provide the necessary support for those affected. The recent verdict from a coroner, suggesting that a betting firm could have done more to assist a gambler who tragically took his own life due to significant debts, further highlights the urgency of the situation.
A Multifaceted Approach to Treatment
The NHS aims to provide comprehensive treatment for gambling addiction by adopting various techniques, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). With the establishment of the full set of 15 NHS facilities across England, the health service anticipates being able to cater to 3,000 patients annually. The seven new clinics will be located in Blackpool, Bristol, Derby, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Sheffield, and Thurrock in Essex, supplementing the existing clinics in London, Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, and Telford. Notably, one of the London clinics specializes in addressing both gambling and gaming addiction in children and young individuals.
Government Initiatives and Industry Response
Recognizing the need for action, the UK government has outlined plans to tackle gambling-related issues, including the introduction of a statutory levy. This measure ensures that gambling companies contribute their fair share to fund treatment services. The government’s white paper, published in April, represents the most significant regulatory reform in the sector since the advent of smartphones. While the proposed measures include a stake limit of £2 on online slot machines for young gamblers, critics argue that insufficient action has been taken regarding gambling advertisements.
Positive Reception and the Need for Change
The announcement of additional addiction facilities has been met with approval from various stakeholders. Gambling with Lives, a charity focused on gambling-related harm, finds the development “heartening.” Will Prochaska, the charity’s strategy director, highlights the relevance of these clinics, particularly when gambling advertising continues to lure more individuals into harm. Matt Zarb-Cousin, the director of Clean Up Gambling, welcomes the move, emphasizing that the current business model of the industry perpetuates harm. However, the Liberal Democrats express concern, stating that the surge in addiction referrals indicates insufficient efforts by the Conservatives to protect gamblers. Health spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP urges the government to take immediate action and address the issue promptly.
Seeking Support and Information
If you or someone you know has been affected by the topics discussed in this article, you can find information and support through the BBC’s Action Line.