Addressing Eating Disorders: Improving Education and Healthcare Services
According to a report by the Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health, there are 1.6 million individuals suffering from eating disorders in the UK, 75% of whom are female. In 2018/19, there were 3,458 hospital admissions related to eating disorders, with over two-thirds classified as an emergency. PwC estimates that eating disorders cost the UK economy £15 billion annually in terms of health costs and lost working hours. 50% of eating disorder sufferers experience anorexia or bulimia, however a large number also experience binge-eating disorders (BED), conditions causing over-eating and the emotional consumption of food. Even before the pandemic, there was significant over demand for NHS services, and those suffering from eating disorders could wait up to 182 days before receiving treatment. 30% of those seen by GPs for eating disorders were not referred for mental health support, and over half of these patients rated the support they received as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. Since then, and according to a study conducted by the Mental Health Foundation, over 30% of the population reported that they over-ate to cope with the stress related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government have recognised that early intervention is key to tackling eating disorders, and have therefore prioritised providing access to timely treatment. At the beginning of 2020, the government set a net standard, aiming for 95% of children (up to 19 years old) with eating disorders to receive treatment within a week for urgent cases, and four weeks for routine cases. The NHS Long term Plan, published in 2019, also delivered a £33.9 billion cash funding increase over the next five years to boost investment in children and young people’s eating disorder services. The government has also launched an initiative to ensure students in schools are aware of mental health issues and able to identify when they are struggling. Additionally, devolved administrations are implementing new policies, with the Welsh Government commissioning research to develop a new strategy for countering eating disorders.
Yet, despite these changes, access to treatment remains a significant challenge – and one that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. In 2019, the eating disorder charity, Beat, argued that a ‘postcode lottery’ existed for NHS eating disorder treatment in England, with patients in some areas experiencing much longer waiting times than others. It also found that since a report in 2017 by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), little improvements had been made on the PHSO’s 2017 recommendations – which included the need for training for all junior doctors on eating disorders; disparity between services for adults compared to children, and gaps in knowledge, and need for education and training for non specialists around how to respond to eating disorders. An inquest into five deaths in November 2020, accused the NHS treatment of anorexia patients as "not a safe system" which “risks future deaths” – only 50% of all eating disorder patients fully recover, according to Anorexia & Bulimia Care. Furthermore, the standard of eating disorder care varies along socio-economic lines with what has been described as “eating disorder inequality” disproportionally affecting those from BAME communities, with SEND, pre-existing mental health conditions.
This timely symposium therefore offers a forum for both, practitioners and policy makers, to consider key issues within the treatment of those experiencing eating disorders, and strategies to improve access to services and education for to help raise awareness and ensure early intervention.
- Respond to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the prevalence and treatment of eating disorders
- Explore what the NHS Long Term Plan and increase in funding will mean for stakeholders in the provision of support for those with eating disorders
- Understand the best approaches to countering marketing and social media which promotes unhealthy body image
- Develop approaches to up-skill mental health staff, provide them with necessary skillsets and retain them in the health service
- Evaluate the best therapies to use when helping those with eating disorders recover
- Understand how to best support healthy eating habits in a school environment
- Contribute ideas of how to identify those experiencing eating disorders and how to respond effectively
- Discuss the position of obesity within the spectrum of eating disorders
- Provide ideas on how to best ensure that those treated for eating disorders do not relapse
- Learn how to maximise limited funding to ensure those affected by eating disorders are best assisted
- Examine how to reduce a ‘postcode lottery’ and other inequalities in access to treatment
- Provide ideas on how social care can best support sufferers in the community
- Develop strategies to best assist men seek help for their eating disorders