Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘It would have killed me’: Call to help gambling addicts beyond NHS

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The NHS has opened a new clinic amid continued demand for services they offer gambling addicts. One former addict, who says he almost lost his life, spoke about the impact such facilities could have.

By Mollie Malone, news correspondent

“I don’t know how I’m alive.”

Matthew Kettell started gambling when he was at school, as a teenager. But it quickly consumed his life.

Eventually, his addiction cost him his marriage, his house, and his job. He stole hundreds of thousands of pounds from his company and went to prison.

“You really think you are going to change your life by winning, and that takes over,” he told Sky News.

“If I’d have carried on gambling it would have definitely killed me.”

Matthew’s last bet was 17 years ago on Friday.

He’s now using his gambling problems of the past to help addicts of the present and has been offering advice in NHS clinics across the north of England.

It comes as the NHS has opened a new clinic in Sheffield amid continued demand for the services they offer.

This builds on 14 existing problem gambling NHS clinics across England, seven of which have opened in the past year.

The health service says it treats up to 3,000 people annually and is funded by NHS England.

The NHS has almost doubled the number of specialist clinics available in the space of a year within England

The first opened in London in 2008 and treats patients over the age of 13. A total of 421 referrals were made to this clinic in the past year.

But the chief executive of the NHS, Amanda Pritchard, is clear that help for addicts has to come from places beyond the health service.

“We are asking for more to be done from societies as a whole, from the gambling industry, to help to manage what can be a really serious set of problems with problem gambling and gambling addiction, which can be deeply destructive and destroy lives,” she said.

The Gambling Commission says it is in the process of piloting new ways of assessing a customer’s financial vulnerabilities, as part of new government proposals.

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), which represents the majority of betting shops, online betting and gaming, told Sky News: “BGC members each year contribute tens of millions of pounds towards research, prevention and treatment to help prevent gambling-related harm and tackle problem gambling, which is currently paid through a unique voluntary levy scheme.

“This funds an independent network of charities, which treats around 85% of all problem gamblers receiving treatment in Britain.”

Amanda Pritchard says more help is needed

It’s an industry in the UK that is worth £14bn every year, and people are seeking help.

Between 2022 and 2023, there were 1,389 referrals to NHS gambling clinics in England. That was a 79% rise on two years earlier – 775 referrals were made between 2020 and 2021.

Matthew says the new NHS clinics would have been welcome at the height of his addiction, as the services available at the time didn’t match up to his needs.

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“As much as he was a great GP, he had nothing he could refer me to. I would definitely have used this service,” he said.

He says nobody would have known that he was suffering.

“Gambling – you couldn’t pick me out in a million people. And knowing I was stealing money from work, heavily in debt, suicidal – I looked normal. And that’s really, really scary.”

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