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UK expands help for child gaming addicts

British children who are seriously addicted to computer games will have better access to National Health Service (NHS) treatment.

Dedicated professionals are now in place to accept referrals for youngsters aged 13 to 25 who are struggling with addiction to video games.

It comes after the NHS announced in June that children with gambling addiction could get access to professional treatment via a dedicated gambling clinic.

The new service for gaming-addicted youngsters is part of the Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders.

The World Health Organisation describes "gaming disorder" as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes "precedence over other life interests".

Symptoms include lack of control over gaming and placing it as a huge priority at the expense of other things, including relationships, social life and studying.

NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, said: "Health needs are constantly changing which is why the NHS must never stand still - this new service is a response to an emerging problem, part of the increasing pressures that children and young people are exposed to these days.

"However, the NHS should not be left to pick up the pieces - gambling and internet firms have a responsibility to their users as well as their shareholders and should do their utmost to prevent rather than cash in on obsessive or harmful behaviour."

In June, Mr Stevens said the gambling industry may face a compulsory levy to pay for addiction treatment for patients.

NHS England said many other countries are grappling with the issue of gaming and internet addiction.

In South Korea, the government has introduced a law banning access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 6am.

Meanwhile, in Japan, players are alerted if they spend more than a certain amount of time each month playing games.

In China, internet giant Tencent has also limited the hours that children can play its most popular games.

Claire Murdoch, NHS national mental health director said: "Compulsive gaming and social media and internet addiction is a problem that is not going to go away when they play such a key part in modern life.

Up to 14 new adult NHS gambling clinics are being opened across the UK.

The Northern Gambling Service clinic in Leeds is the first outside of London and opened last month.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders and the Royal College of Psychiatrists' spokeswoman on behavioural addictions, said: "Gaming disorder is a mental health condition which can have a hugely debilitating effect on people's lives, both for patients and their families who can be left feeling utterly helpless in the wake of their loved one's addiction.

"Gaming disorder is not a mental illness to be taken lightly: we are talking about instances where someone may spend up to 12 hours a day playing computer games and can end up becoming socially isolated and lose their job as a result. I am delighted to be leading this new clinic."

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