As with all addictions, it is hard to know the exact numbers of people at risk of harmful gambling, especially as Covid restrictions drive more extreme gambling behaviour. But we do know there are between three and five million harmful gamblers across the UK – and there is an urgent need for those who have accepted they have a problem to get specialist help. Often the challenge is helping them to find it.
Back in March, our second Northern Gambling Service clinic opened in Salford. The service, one of only two dedicated NHS treatment services for those harmed by gambling, is the only one outside London and we cover all of the North. As well as the Leeds and North West clinics we also have one in Sunderland which covers the North East.
The service has 18 clinicians and support staff and includes psychologists, therapists, psychiatrists, and mental health nurses. The clinics also have experts by experience – people who have recovered from gambling addiction.
One issue we are grappling with is the lack of awareness of gambling as a harmful addiction or problem.
Shifting the Odds aims to tackle this. It’s an initiative to give GPs and other primary care providers the tools – knowledge, advice and confidence – they need to start integrating questions about potentially harmful gambling into patient health screening questionnaires. The campaign will also highlight how to introduce the topic of potential harmful gambling during patient consultations and other patient interactions. Many patients will see their GPs with related problems (e.g. depression, relationship problems, financial hardship), but struggle to open up about the root cause. We want to help primary care professionals to raise this issue.
We believe there are hundreds of thousands of patients in Greater Manchester who would benefit from our service, but they don’t have access to information and advice about harmful gambling and where they can turn to get help.
We want to help GPs and primary care providers feel more comfortable talking about harmful gambling, recognising the signs (such as they are) and taking appropriate action by referring to our service – by phone (0300 300 1490) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We also accept self-referrals, a route taken by Peter Collins from Leigh. Peter started gambling in his early teens and had been gambling for over 40 years by the time he contacted us.
“In the last ten years my gambling had taken control of me rather than me controlling it,” he said.
“I was closing myself away, losing my confidence and my self-esteem. I was spiraling into a state of depression – and to make matters worse, I started drinking more as well.
“It was becoming a marriage made in hell, the gambling and drinking fueling each other. I had sought help in the past but I was in denial of the state and severity of my problems and so nothing worked for me.
“At my darkest hour, I saw that the Northern Gambling Service was opening a clinic in Salford and I took one last roll of dice and got in touch.
“The team was amazingly welcoming, putting me at ease and almost immediately we were going into depth about my troubles. And I was opening up for the first time, not only to someone else but to myself.
“Since that first meeting in March, my life has been transformed. I am 28 weeks abstinent, my confidence has returned, my family are thrilled and I am discovering new things in life – I am in control.
“Without the team at the Northern Gambling Service I hate to think where I would be right now.”
Let’s shift the odds for people like Peter across Greater Manchester. There are many more who could benefit from the Northern Gambling Service and we look forward to working more closely with primary care colleagues over the coming months.