New Lancaster research to assess extent of problem gambling across Lancashire

An image of a person holding a credit card and a mobile phone, about to place a bet

Problem gambling and its impact on public health across Lancashire is the focus of a new research project launched by Lancaster University this week.

Researchers from Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) and Lancaster University’s Psychology department have joined forces with Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust; Delphi Medical, a leading provider of drug and alcohol addiction treatment in the Northwest; and Blackburn foodbank, to embark on a new project which will assess the prevalence of problem gambling across the region.

There are up to 460,000 people in the UK who are likely to be problem gamblers, with a further 3.8% at risk of developing problem gambling, according to the latest Government figures.

Problem gambling is also estimated by Government to cost the UK £1.27 billion per year in associated costs - but as an issue that doesn’t cause individuals to present with physical symptoms, it often goes undetected.

To identify the number of individuals affected by the problem, and to help direct those individuals towards the right help and specialist support organisations, researchers are evaluating a short set of questions for medical professionals to use when assessing patients, to assess key markers for problem gambling.

The questions will now be used in a pilot study as part of general patient screening across the South Cumbria and Lancashire NHS Trust, in a bid to see how many individuals it affects across Blackpool and Blackburn and direct them to much-needed support. The same questions will also be asked of those who use Blackburn foodbank and anyone who seeks help from Delphi Medical.

Dr Carolyn Downs from Lancaster University Management School is the leading the project. She said: “We know, anecdotally, that problem gambling may be a more serious and prevalent issue than the latest official figures, released in Spring 2022, suggest.

“Clinicians tell us that problem gambling is a growing issue across our region and is increasingly seen as a trigger for mental health as well as financial crises – but unlike drug and alcohol addiction, current NHS systems are not set up to capture data on problem gambling. So, at the moment it is impossible to get a true picture of how many people are suffering, and what this addiction may be costing the county.”

Drawing on her earlier research on gambling-related debt, Dr Downs says the project, which is funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Sciences Research Council) Impact Acceleration Fund, aims to provide the NHS with a simple system to more accurately assess the prevalence of problem gambling – and hopes this will help the region attract additional funding in future to tackle the problem.

“From this week, every person who seeks help from the NHS mental health teams, foodbank or Delphi Medical in Blackpool or Blackburn will be asked three, very simple questions on top of what they would already be asked when they walk through the doors,” Dr Downs explains.

“The questions aren’t designed to be intrusive but simply to pick up on the key indicators that suggest that important line has been crossed - when gambling’s no longer ‘a bit of fun,’ but starts to take over all aspects of life.”

Data from the pilot project will be captured over the next few months before it is collected and assessed. Researchers will then produce a report and invite the NHS, police and other key public service and support organisations to a public event to discuss the findings. Researchers hope the project will be rolled out more widely to other areas in future and are in conversation with other local councils, mental health crisis teams within NHS Trusts and counselling services who are interested in supporting the project.

If your organisation would like to take part or you would like to find out more, please contact Dr Carolyn Downs:

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