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Beat’s Statement on the rise of children and young people waiting for NHS eating disorder treatment

In August 2021, new NHS England data revealed that the number of children and young people waiting for eating disorder treatment has significantly increased in 2021 in comparison to previous years.

Four times more children and young people were waiting for routine eating disorder treatment at the end of June 2021 than the previous year. A further 207 children were still waiting for urgent treatment - the highest total in records going back to 2016.

Tom Quinn, Beat’s Director of External Affairs comments:

‘We know that the pandemic has had a massive impact on people with eating disorders and their loved ones. For some who already had an eating disorder their illness has worsened, more people have developed an eating disorder for the first time, and others who thought they had recovered from their eating disorder have relapsed. People that we support have cited increased anxiety, isolation and lack of support as factors.

‘Beat exists to end the pain and suffering of eating disorders. At the pandemic’s peak, we experienced a 300% increase in people reaching out to our support services in comparison to pre-pandemic levels. We are continuing to provide expert advice and support for young people, adults and carers across the UK.

‘Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, and accessing specialist help as soon as possible leads to the best chances of making a full recovery. More children and young people with eating disorders are being treated by the NHS than ever before, but demand is increasing at an even faster rate, and it is particularly concerning to see urgent referrals rising.

‘To ensure that every person with an eating disorder gets the help that they need quickly, it is essential that eating disorder services are equipped to cope with the increasing demand. Some parts of the country are adopting innovative approaches, including expanding the role of peer support workers and other non-clinical options, meaning that more patients can be helped sooner.

‘Improved awareness and creative staffing solutions are essential if the NHS is to be able to help people as soon as they fall ill as well as treating those whose illness has progressed to a point of danger. It is also crucial that funding allocated to eating disorder services reaches the frontline.

‘We encourage anybody currently struggling to get in touch with their GP at the earliest opportunity. Beat’s Helplines are open 365 days a year, and we also run a variety of online support services and groups.’

What can I do?

Lives are put at risk by long waiting times. We need to ensure that our eating disorder services are equipped to cope with the increasing demand. A referral shouldn't mean months spent on a waiting list. When someone first reaches out for help, they must receive support right away.

We have written a letter that you can send to your MP outlining the issue and urging them to help us to End the Wait.