GambleAware calls for best use of PGSI scale following Ipsos UK review

GambleAware has called on treatment services, clinicians and policymakers to make full use of the Problem Gambling Severity Index to ensure that those experiencing gambling harms are correctly identified and helped.

This follows Ipsos UK being tasked with exploring the nature of PGSI amid a debate surrounding how best to use the index to identify and measure gambling harms. The charity also noted concern at this having not been developed as a clinical tool.

The overarching finding determined that the PGSI scale can continue to be used to estimate the potential risk of gambling harm, despite it possessing certain limitations.  

“The results of this study increase the knowledge base on the PGSI scale and confirm that it should continue to be used to estimate the potential risk of ‘problem gambling’ among large groups,” commented Steven Ginnis, Research Director at Ipsos UK.

“However, the findings suggest PGSI is unlikely to work as well on its own as a diagnostic instrument for individuals or for screening purposes. 

“We therefore recommend that PGSI users and practitioners also look beyond the broad classification groupings – not all people within a PGSI classification are at the same potential risk of harm from gambling.”

It was discovered that a “strong, consistent link” between higher PGSI scores and higher rates of psychological distress is evident. This led to a finding that it could be used as a tool when considering integrating mental health interventions into treatment plans for those that score highly.

In addition, it was found that certain PGSI questions are more likely to indicate a severe risk of harm than other questions, with Ipsos UK noting that “this raises questions about whether each PGSI item should be weighted equally when using the PGSI as a clinical or screening tool”.

However, it was recommended that the full questionnaire, which includes a set of nine questions, “should be used wherever possible”.

An alternative short-form three question offering “should only be used if there is extremely limited opportunity to interact with people being tested”.

This, it was noted, is due to this having a tendency to fail to identify some cases of problem gambling’, which it is added can understate its prevalence.

Haroon Chowdry, GambleAware Director of Evidence & Insights, explained: “The PGSI scale has long been an important tool for understanding the scale of gambling harms at both individual and population level. 

“We commissioned this independent study because we wanted to take a closer look at the features of this index, how exactly it varies and how well it captures different kinds of harm, which has not been analysed before.

“We are reassured by the findings that the PGSI generally works well as an index and can identify different levels of harm, although there are areas where the scale or how it is used may be able to be improved. 

“We hope treatment services, clinicians and policymakers will take note of the recommendations to ensure they are making the best use of this scale to help those experiencing gambling harms.” 

The study used advanced statistical methods on a dataset of over 21,000 people taken from the 2020 and 2021 waves of the Annual GB Treatment and Support Survey commissioned by GambleAware. 

The PGSI is a standardised measure of the level of gambling problems, ranging from non-problem gambling (a PGSI score of 0), low level of problems (a score of 1-2), moderate level of problems (a score of 3-7), and problem gambling (score of 8+).