NHS 'should not be expected to pick up the pieces' of problem gambling, health boss warns

  • Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan

The NHS's mental health chief has called for bookmakers to end tactics that she says are helping to fuel the UK's gambling addiction crisis.

In her letter to Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur and Betting and Gaming Council chair Brigid Simmonds, Claire Murdoch warned the NHS "should not be expected to pick up the pieces" from lives damaged by problem gambling.

Ms Murdoch’s letter follows the Gambling Commission’s decision on Tuesday to introduce a ban on customers placing bets with their credit cards.

Neil McArthur is responsible for the development and effective delivery of the Gambling Commission’s strategy. Credit: Richard Stonehouse/PA

Ms Murdoch said she had "more than 30 years' experience" witnessing the "devastating impact" of addiction.

In particular, she stressed the prevalence of "certain tactics" used by firms to encourage gamblers to chase their losses was "concerning".

"As the head of England’s mental health services and a nurse of more than 30 years’ experience, I have seen first-hand the devastating impact on mental wellbeing of addiction and am concerned that the prevalence of gambling in our society is causing harm," she wrote.

"In particular... I am concerned that offering people who are losing vast sums of money free tickets, VIP experiences, and free bets, all proactively prompt people back into the vicious gambling cycle which many want to escape."

Ms Murdoch stressed the NHS "should not be expected to pick up the pieces from lives damaged by avoidable harm."

She called on industry bosses to implement a number of harm-minimisation measures, including stopping the "targeting of high-loss customers" and ending "bet to view commercial deals which require a stake in exchange for sports streaming access".

"In order to operate safely, the gambling industry has a responsibility to prevent the occasional flutter turning into a dangerous habit," Ms Murdoch said.

Addressing the Gambling Commission chief executive and Betting and Gaming Council chair directly, Ms Murdoch said:

"I am requesting that you please provide urgent detail on actions that your firm – and the industry – is taking to reduce the likelihood and severity of gambling addiction."

In response, Betting and Gaming Council chair Brigid Simmonds invited the mental health boss to meet with industry chief executives and discuss her concerns.

Ms Simmonds said: "We take our responsibility to our customers incredibly seriously and we are determined to raise standards and improve safer gambling".

Age-verification checks, funding for research, education and treatment and the introduction of a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling advertising during live televised sport are all measures Ms Simmonds said had been taken.