Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Kids with Eating Disorders Being ‘Let Down by NHS’ – Hundreds Waiting Months for Treatment, Including Urgent Cases

Kids with Eating Disorders Being ‘Let Down by NHS’ – Hundreds Waiting Months for Treatment, Including Urgent Cases

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The NHS has today released latest statistics on the number of children and young people (up to the age of 19) with an eating disorder who have accessed or are waiting for treatment, and the figures reveal that hundreds are still waiting for their treatment to start, with some still waiting even though they’re classified as ‘urgent cases’. 

The release shows that in Q3 of 2019/20, 532 routine cases were still waiting for treatment to start since they sought help and were referred, with a further 22 urgent cases still waiting.

Analysis of the statistics by UKAT’s Eating Disorder Practitioner Dimitra Theofili reveals that the number of routine cases still waiting for treatment has risen by 20% since the previous quarter alone, a trend she says should be going in the opposite direction. 

‘Of course the service is going to receive additional cases to manage and look after each quarter, but these figures suggest that more and more children are simply being added to an ever growing pile.’

Of the 532 routine cases still waiting for treatment, 1 in 4 (134) have been waiting for between 4 and 12 weeks, with a further 39 children still waiting for treatment to start some 12 weeks since their cry for help. 

A total of 287 children with routine eating disorder cases are waiting between 1–4 weeks since their referral and 72 are within one week since referral bracket.

Worryingly, UKAT’s analysis of the figures shows that there are some 22 children classed as requiring urgent treatment for their eating disorder, 3 of which have already been waiting between 4-12 weeks, and 2 are still waiting 12 weeks since their referral for help. 

Dimitra Theofili, Eating Disorder Practitioner at UKAT’s eating disorder specialist facility Banbury Lodge comments: ‘The fact that there are 22 children requiring urgent treatment for their eating disorder condition and are still waiting for their treatment is appalling, quite frankly they are being let down by the NHS. This is a progressive illness, meaning it gets worse with time.’

And it does seem like the NHS are aware of this. In today’s statistical report, the NHS themselves suggest that by 2020, 95% of urgent cases should start treatment within 1 week of referral, a figure that currently stands at 73.5%. For children with routine eating disorder cases, the NHS target is that 95% of patients should start treatment within 4 weeks of referral, a figure that currently stands at 86.9%. 

Theofili continues: ‘There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to protect these incredibly vulnerable children who are struggling with a misunderstood yet extremely dangerous and time-sensitive condition. A child who asks for help for their eating disorder has taken the first and most important step in their road to recovery and for them to be ignored for months is just not good enough.

‘Time is of the essence when it comes to treating eating disorders, especially in young people. This is perhaps why at UKAT, we’re seeing a rise in the number of young people admitting into private rehab, because once they ask for help, they can get it as quickly as the next day.’

Across the UKAT group, admissions for eating disorders has risen by over 200% since 2016, and in 2019, 8% of all admissions were for eating disorders. 

So far this year, UKAT’s admissions team are receiving upwards of 5 enquiries for eating disorder treatment every day. 

Dimitra goes on to discuss why eating disorders in children and young adults is on the rise: ‘Social media creates unrealistic expectations about body and shape. This is more evident and impactful in adolescents and young adults.

‘Instagram and Snapchat seem to be the chosen platforms because of the ability to alter the way their face looks with the use of filters, some which are actually named “perfect face”. They’re quite literally suggesting that the user’s face is not perfect; how is this meant to make a 13 year old feel about themselves?

‘There are also widely promoted diets that advocate not eating carbohydrates. This impacts on blood sugar levels in the child’s body which then affects the level of serotonin in the brain, which alters their levels of well-being and feelings of happiness.

‘Eating disorders also affect boys, yet they’re less likely to ask for help. Our experience is that binge eating is the most common form of eating disorder affecting boys.’

Today’s report also reveals that regionally, the majority of urgent cases (9 of 22) still waiting for treatment live in the North East and Yorkshire, and that the majority of routine cases (126) live in the South East, closely followed by 113 routine cases seeking help in the South West and a further 102 living again in the North East and Yorkshire region. 

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