An evaluation of eating disorder services has found that inpatient wards have stopped accepting males because of the way single-sex rules for wards were interpreted.
The survey published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Bulletin found that of the 26 units that responded, six did not admit men – of which four of these had to close admissions to men after inspections by regulators who felt that it was unsafe for both sexes to reside on the ward.
The eating disorder charity Beat says this highlights the wider problems faced by men in accessing treatment.
Men and boys make up an estimated 25% of the 1.25 million people with an eating disorder in the UK. Yet males face barriers in getting help for eating disorders and have to wait nearly three times as long as females for their GP to make a referral – 28 weeks as opposed to 10.
The researchers also asked clinicians and patients whether they felt mixed wards would be beneficial or harmful to patients. More than 80% of eating disorder professionals felt that inpatient eating disorder units should be mixed-gender, and no patients thought mixed gender treatment would be harmful to their care. Over 60% of patients said that being in a mixed-gender ward helps with their recovery.
The evaluation sought clarity from the Care Quality Commission on how guidance on single-sex wards should be applied to eating disorder units. It was confirmed that mixed-gender wards are entirely consistent with the guidance if simple arrangements are made, such as accommodating males in their own individual bedrooms.
As lead author of the study, Dr Fukutomi said: “The single-sex system disadvantages males as the majority of the patients are female
“The fact that both professionals and patients believe eating disorder wards should be open to males, should spur units to accept males if they do not currently do so.
“The guidelines have been amended following our work and we hope that more men will find access to treatment.”
One former sufferer, Tommy, explained the importance of accessing treatment as a male. He said, “I’ve had many hospital admissions, and I can say wholeheartedly that inpatient treatment saved my life. It gave me the tools to counter eating disorder behaviours and let me live a life where I no longer just survive, but instead thrive.”
Dr Dasha Nicholls from the Royal College of Psychiatrists said: “It is important to evaluate the impact of any policy change affecting patient care. We welcome this research into one of the known barriers to treatment for a significant, and increasing, proportion of patients with eating disorders i.e. men. It provides valuable information from both professionals and patients perspectives that can inform service provision.”
Beat’s Chief Executive Andrew Radford said, “Contrary to stereotypes, eating disorders affect people of all backgrounds and genders.
“We need to remove the barriers that can prevent men and boys from accessing treatment, by raising awareness and ensuring services are accessible and have enough resources to provide help.
“If males need inpatient care, then this must be available for them.
“But there should be more investment in community-based services for both males and females so that patients do not arrive at the critical stage where they need inpatient treatment.
“The sooner someone gets treatment for an eating disorder, the better their chances of recovery. The Government and NHS must do more to reduce the nearly three years it takes, on average, for people to seek help, so that they get treatment at a stage when it is most effective.”