The NHS is to open its first gambling clinic for children after research found the number of young people struggling with addiction has quadrupled in two years.
According to the Gambling Commission, an estimated 55,000 children in the UK are now classed as having a gambling problem.
The clinic will open as part of a new network of services for addicts being rolled out as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.
Gambling services for adults are also being extended and rolled out as part of the scheme, with clinics opening in the north of England for the first time.
Simon Stevens, the NHS England chief executive, said that the links between problem gambling and stress, depression and mental health problems are on the rise.
“This action shows just how seriously the NHS takes the threat of gambling addiction, even in young people, but we need to be clear – tackling mental ill health caused by addiction is everyone’s responsibility – especially those firms that directly contribute to the problem,” Stevens said before calling on the gambling industry to do more to tackle the problem of addiction.
“This is an industry that splashes £1.5 billion on marketing and advertising campaigns, much of it now pumped out online and through social media, but it has been spending just a fraction of that helping customers and their families deal with the direct consequences of addiction.
“The sums just don’t add up and that is why as well as voluntary action it makes sense to hold open the possibility of a mandatory levy if experience shows that’s what’s needed.”
The Gambling Commission report, which was published last year, described the rise in the number of child gamblers a “generational scandal”.
The report found that 14 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds had spent their own money on gambling in the previous week, spending on average £16 each.
This compared to 13 per cent who had drunk alcohol in the past week, four per cent who had smoked cigarettes and two per cent who had taken illegal drugs.
Types of betting included a private bet for money with friends ( six per cent), National Lottery scratchcards (four per cent), fruit/slot machines (three per cent) and playing cards for money with friends (three per cent).
In addition, five per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds had spent their own money on online gambling in the past 12 months, with six per cent admitting to using a parent or guardian’s account.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health, said the new scheme has the potential to be a “major turning point”.
“It is all about making sure the NHS does everything it can to help people of all ages, who are seriously addicted to gambling,” Murdoch said.
“There is already a big push to transform mental health services across the board for children and young people and the specific focus on gambling related addiction is the logical next step, particularly given the explosion of online gambling.”