Digital GP and patientA study published in the British Journal of General Practice found that around 1 in 20 people waiting to see their GP in surgeries in Bristol reported having a gambling problem.

The study, funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research (SPCR) and carried out by academics from the universities of Bristol and York and the Australian National University, surveyed over 1,000 patients in 11 GP surgeries in the city.

This is the first time a survey of this kind has been undertaken in general practices the UK and indicates an area that needs more attention if primary care services are to help those in need.

Dr Sean Cowlishaw from the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol conducted the study. He said: “Gambling is emerging as a public health issue in the UK but it is poorly researched. There is very little independent data available and none at all on how many people presenting to GPs have a problem. In this study we wanted to measure the extent of the problem and identify who is most vulnerable so that we can start to think about how primary care services – GPs and others providing healthcare in the community – might be able to help. This could include training and support for GPs so that they can identify patients with problems and signpost them to specialist services.”

Patients completed anonymous questionnaires which included questions about their mental health and addictive behaviours, such as risky drug or alcohol use. Gambling problems were higher among young males and young adults, and people who used drugs, had depression or risky drinking habits. 

Just under 1% of patients reported having a severe gambling problem, 4.5% reported problems that were low to moderately severe, and around 7%t reported gambling problems among family members.

Gambling has emerged as major concern for public health in the UK since 2007, when legislative changes allowed for huge growth in gambling availability and advertising. Unlike difficulties with alcohol or other drugs, however, there are no physical signs of problems with gambling and patients who need support are often overlooked until they experience major negative consequences (eg., severe debt, relationship breakdown).