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Harmful gambling; Early education key to addressing urgent public health issue

Published: 1 February 2023

Early education, screening by frontline services and continued support through post-recovery are among the actions needed if Wales wants to reduce the devastating harms caused by gambling, says a new report from Public Health Wales.

The effects from harmful gambling are wide-reaching, with evidence showing that there is significant negative impact upon not only gamblers themselves, but also upon families, friends, colleagues and employers, and the wider community. 

Annie Ashman, Speciality Registrar in Public Health at Public Health Wales, said:  

“The evidence shows that harmful gambling can have devastating effects on the health and wellbeing of both the individual and wider society. Along with debt, job loss and depression, to name just a few, almost six in 10 people experiencing gambling harms have a substance misuse disorder, around a third will experience domestic violence, and more than a third have a mental health disorder. So we are often talking about multiple conditions that can impact health at the same time.  

“As such, a system wide approach is needed to take action on every level of the causes and resulting harms that gambling can have. This includes knocking down the barrier of shame and stigma, early education in schools, empowering GPs and other frontline services to identify and refer on to specialist services, so those affected directly or indirectly can easily access the support that they need. 

“At Public Health Wales we are concerned about increased costs of living and the potential for large numbers of people in the UK to fall below the poverty line, the additional financial and emotional burden that gambling-related harm places on some of the most vulnerable families must be urgently addressed.” 

The report details priority areas for action including the need for tighter regulation of gambling industry advertising and practices and the need to acknowledge and act upon the increasingly close link between gambling and gaming.  

Other recommendations include: 

  • Prevention should be via evidence based education. A schools-based approach should form part of this, but education for parents and frontline professionals is also key. 
  • Service development should involve a shift to a public health approach to gambling, acknowledging that there are multiple opportunities to intervene before gambling behaviour becomes harmful, and interventions are required at all stages, including post-recovery. 
  • Services should be evidence-based, integrated, collaborative and able to tackle multiple health issues where needed rather than focusing solely on gambling behaviour. 
  • There is a role for the NHS, both in the form of specialist treatment services and in the form of enabling frontline healthcare professionals to identify potential harms from gambling and refer to appropriate services. 
  • There are more affected others (individuals who experience harms as a result of someone else’s gambling behaviour) than harmful gamblers in Wales, and there needs to be appropriate services to support them, and reduce the harms that they experience. 

Chief Medical Officer, Sir Frank Atherton, said: 

“Harmful gambling can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, as well as on their friends, families and communities.  

“I have advocated a public health approach to gambling throughout my time as Chief Medical Officer. This publication builds on the work of the report I presented in 2018, ‘Gambling With Our Health’, which made a number of recommendations to tackle gambling as a public health issue in wales.  

“I welcome this work, which is another step towards tackling harmful gambling in Wales.” 

‘Gambling Health Needs Assessment for Wales’ aims to review the needs of people experiencing harms from gambling to inform a public health approach to reducing gambling harm in Wales.