Early intervention on eating disorders. The crucial role of GPs.

Author: Beat

Date Of Publication: 02/04/2017

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that can have devastating long-term consequences and may even be fatal if not treated early. We estimate that at least 725,000 people in the UK of all ages, genders and backgrounds have an eating disorder, but due to misconceptions and lack of recognition among sufferers and those around them, the real number may be higher.

Early intervention is key for someone with an eating disorder if they are to have the greatest chance of recovery. But sufferers face barriers to early intervention, among them a lack of public awareness about early signs and symptoms, misconceptions among GPs, and limited funding for treatment. All these obstacles need to be addressed. This briefing focuses on the critical role of GPs.

Many GPs are not equipped to help sufferers of eating disorders into treatment. Without more training on eating disorders, many are not able to recognise these serious illnesses. From our survey of almost 1700 people with experience of eating disorders, either their own or that of someone they know, it’s clear that getting help from a GP is a lottery for sufferers. When we asked respondents to our survey to focus on the first time they sought help from a GP about their eating disorder they told us:

  • Only 34% of respondents believed their GP knew how to help them with their eating disorder.
  • 3 out of 10 sufferers did not get a referral to a mental health service from their GP, despite guidance from NICE and NHS England that stresses the importance of immediate referral.
  • While half of respondents rated the quality of care received from their GP as very good or good, half said it was poor or very poor.

Beat is focused on early intervention to ensure those that need help receive it as soon as possible.

  1. We’re running a public awareness campaign and running awareness training in schools and workplaces to help everyone recognise the early signs of eating disorders and encourage those that need help to seek it early.
  2. We’re providing guidance and support through our national helpline and have produced new information guides so that sufferers are equipped for a successful appointment.
  3. Creating new GP information guides to equip GPs to recognise the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and refer without delay.

But we can’t do it alone. Beat is calling for the following:

  1. Increased eating disorder training for medical students specialising in general practice, so that all GPs are equipped to support eating disorder sufferers.
  2. Sufficient eating disorder training at all medical schools, with appropriate examination.
  3. Increased funding for eating disorder services to ensure everyone receives the treatment they need without delay

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