Eating Disorders: It’s Not Glamorous

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word eating disorder?

Eating Disorders are a mental illness that kills. Many see someone with eating disorders as being part of the latest fad or just being a ‘teenage girl’.

There is a pressing need now more than ever to raise awareness and educate teenagers throughout secondary schools and provide local support for young people and their families.

Eating disorders primarily affect the young and often prove to be family as well as personal tragedies if they are left untreated. With the right treatment delivered on-time then these tragedies can be avoided with full recoveries being made.

NHS England has set ambitious new standards to be reached by 2020. This means that 95% of cases will be treated within 4 weeks from the first contact with a medical professional, urgent cases will be treated within 1 week with the worst emergency cases being treated within 24 hours.  The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published updated guidelines on Eating Disorders which covers a range of assessment methods, treatments, monitoring, inpatient care for children, young people and adults who all suffer with eating disorders. The aims are to improve the care patients receive by detailing the most effective ways to treat patients for Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa. This means that in order for a patient to be admitted their BMI must be exceptionally low or even at a life threatening state as there are too few beds. In addition to this, when a person is told that they are not at this stage to be able to qualify for inpatient care they tend to make themselves to that specific weight or BMI in order to get the help they both need and want and as a result making themselves worse.

Between a person going to their General Practitioner about worries of an eating disorder and being referred to a clinic or to further help is taking around 30 weeks (7 and a half months). At this moment in some areas there is a 16 month waiting list for beds. This means that in order to get the help they need patients could be sent hundreds of miles from their homes and families.

How is it acceptable that people who are lucky enough to live near a specialised hospital or clinic have more chance of being able to be nearer to their homes and families whilst receiving help. Did you know that in the second half of 2017 alone there was over 110 patients that were sent over 300 miles to get inpatient help they need.

£150 million has been given to the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s) in order to extend and improve the help that can be given to patients with eating disorders. However, 70% of these CCG’s have spent some or all of this money on other things. As this money is not ring-fenced the CCG’s have the power to decided what this money is spent on. For example, One of these CCG’s has spent this money on new IT systems rather than on mental health issues and eating disorders that  the money was given for.

The Government is now investing £30 million each year until 2020 in order to improve community care for Eating Disorders. There have been 67 new or extended community Eating Disorder teams completed in England. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence have recommended that patients will be treated in age appropriate facilities. It has been said that more money will be invested in wider mental health care than before. Over £1 billion extra funding will be going into the crisis care and perinatal services as well as Eating Disorder services for both children and young people in the next 5 years.

In 2017 NHS England announced that a new child and adolescent mental health unit will be built in Cornwall. The new 12 bed unit will accommodate boys and girls up to the age of 18 and should be open in Spring 2018. Although this will be a good investment what happens to the patients who wont fit into the unit because the beds have been filled. This is because the nearest specialised clinic from Cornwall is in Exeter which is over 2 hours from Truro, still a way to drive in order to visit your sick child who needs their families support.

It is important that mental health is treated just as or even more importantly than physical health. They need to be treated with the same equality within the NHS. This is because more people die from eating disorders than any other mental health illness. No other illness would be treated like this and when sufferers recover at home and felt that they were getting worse they would be told to go to A&E. However, this wouldn’t do a great deal as if they weren’t at the specified BMI or weight to get inpatient help they weren’t really a priority as such as they were not in a life threatening state.

Eating disorders are a serious and distressing mental illness. With the right approach and appropriate treatment the government will be able to offer help and care as well as a chance of a full recovery to those who currently suffer from an Eating Disorder.

The only way to break the stigma or taboo behind eating disorders is by speaking out about them. The Late Princess Diana did this in a Panorama BBC Documentary in 1995 as did Mark Austin and his family speaking out about their own struggles with his daughter and her eating disorder in 2017. However, there still seems to be a great stigma 22 years on from Diana speaking out about her Bulimia and challenges behind it. Why is it so hard to break this stigma and taboo if a person in the Royal family felt that she was able to?

It is a well known fact that the sooner sufferers are referred and receive help the better the chance of recovery that they have. So if we educate better and earlier surely we should be able to eventually reduce the amount of people who develop an eating disorder of some kind.

Now let me ask you, do you feel if there was more education in schools that people could be less inclined to develop an eating disorder and if they had known about the dangers sooner it could have changed their view of the illness quicker?

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