DHSC deems gambling a ‘related factor’ of UK suicides

Gambling has been recognised as a ‘related factor’ in the UK government’s new strategy to reduce suicide rates by improving prevention and early intervention through the NHS and wider local public services.

This morning, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published details of its new “five-year strategy to reduce suicide rates”.

DHSC Undersecretary for Mental Health, Maria Caulfield, announced that the government has reserved £150m in capital funds to expand the NHS’ existing programme focused on providing urgent and emergency care.

Further initiatives will see the government establish a £10m fund to support the vital work of voluntary, community, and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations.

“While this strategy outlines ways to prevent suicides for everyone over the next five years, we must ensure we continue to focus on groups with higher suicide rates or where concerning trends have been observed,” Caulfield declared.

Listed alongside domestic abuse and online safety, gambling was highlighted as a ‘new priority’ that the strategy must engage with to protect those at risk of suicide.

Gambling was also deemed as a ‘new associated risk’ which must be examined in relation to the social factors experienced by ‘people on the margins of society’ be it “poverty, ethnicity, disability or prejudice”.

The strategy will also account for the ‘financial uncertainty’ faced by UK communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

The new strategy emphasises ‘addressing risk factors’ essential for effective suicide prevention. The DHSC outlined: “Many risk factors are shared across different individuals, groups, and communities. Actions addressing these risks are therefore likely to prevent suicides at a population level, offering potential benefits for specific groups.”

‘Harmful Gambling’ stands identified alongside concerns like physical illness, financial troubles, substance misuse, domestic abuse, and social isolation.

In its analysis, DHSC referenced the Public Health England’s January 2023 report “Gambling-related harms evidence review“, noting the “increasing evidence of the link between harmful gambling and suicide, especially in younger people”.

DHSC supports new controls and safeguards to minimise gambling risks, as advocated in the White Paper of the DCMS Gambling Review.

Direct measures will introduce new policies and recommendations on harmful gambling risks linked to suicide, conveyed to the NHS to assist the network of 15 problem gambling treatment clinics due to be operational by September 2023.

As a new collaborative effort, the DHSC will partner with DCMS and the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) to enhance informational messages about gambling risks and reinforce evidence to reduce gambling-related harms.

The DHSC will also play a significant role in the consultation on the design and scope of a new levy to fund research, education, and treatment of gambling-related harms.

Concluding its action plan, the DHSC stated its intention to finalise a review of NHS England’s current “treatment and support system” by the end of 2023, providing recommendations for relevant departments

Last week, Andrew Rhodes, Chief Executive of the Gambling Commission, emphasised concerns over the lack of data and evidence on gambling-related suicide affecting policies concerning the UK gambling sector.

Writing to DCMS Chair Dame Caroline Dinenage, he clarified that the Commission has never endorsed a particular data source on gambling-related suicides but has referenced the findings of the OHID review, citing “figures of between 117 and 496 suicides associated with gambling issues”.

The need for enhanced data to understand the complexities of suicide and related factors was spotlighted by Professor Sir Louis Appleby, the key advisor of the suicide prevention strategy.

He said: “To support these actions, we need high-quality evidence – data, research, and personal narratives from bereaved families and those at risk. 

“Their experiences have elevated the public’s awareness of suicide, highlighting the urgent need for better prevention. They deserve our gratitude and support; their input has been invaluable.”