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NHS loses momentum on eating disorder waiting times targets

NHS England today released waiting time statistics for children and young people referred for  treatment for eating disorders, showing that nationally eating disorder services risk not meeting targets by 2021.

After the proportion of routine cases being seen within the target of four weeks initially rose from 67.1% to 82.4% over a year from 2016-17 to 2017-18, progress has flatlined and the latest figures show a drop to 80.2%.

Sufferers who faced delays in receiving treatment have spoken about the distress this caused them and how their illness worsened as they waited for treatment. Katie, who fell ill when she was 14, said, “When I developed anorexia I was at the higher-end of the healthy weight category; so despite losing a lot of weight very quickly, my BMI was still not deemed dangerously low enough for specialist treatment.

“Because of this I spent months slowly deteriorating and becoming more entrenched in the disordered thoughts and behaviours. This meant that once I did reach a dangerous weight, and therefore became a priority for treatment, my illness had taken a much greater hold.”

For Sophie, by contrast, a rapid start to treatment was essential to her recovery: “I was seen initially for an appointment and due to the rapid deterioration and complexity of my eating disorder a referral was instantly sent to the specialist eating disorder service. Within a week I received an appointment for the following week which was with a psychiatrist and a specialist nurse.

“Being seen so quickly made such a difference as it supported both myself and my family. It was a crucial stage and if I hadn’t been seen so quickly I can’t imagine what would have happened”.

The proportion of urgent cases being seen within the target of one week after referral has risen from 74.7% to 81.3% compared to the previous quarter, meaning that the NHS is nearly on track to meet targets for urgent cases by 2021, although progress remains inconsistent.

Reacting to the figures, the UK eating disorder charity Beat’s Chief Executive Andrew Radford said,

“It is very worrying that momentum has been lost and the NHS is no longer on track to meet waiting times targets for routine cases by 2020. People who do not get treatment fast will become more ill, causing more suffering to them and their family and a greater cost to the NHS.

“The Government has allocated an extra £30 million every year for children and young people’s eating disorder services but it seems this is not always reaching the frontline services where it is most needed. More must be done to ensure it is spent as intended so that services have the resources to meet the waiting times targets and provide treatment fast.

“There is still a postcode lottery when it comes to how long children and young people wait for treatment. The Government and NHS must do more to address this and ensure that people are not denied treatment because their local services lack funding or impose criteria for referral that can be a barrier to treatment. “Furthermore, waiting times standards help sufferers who have already been referred for treatment but it still takes nearly three years, on average, for someone to realise they have an eating disorder and visit a GP. We know that the sooner someone gets treatment, the better their chances of recovery, so the Government must do more to ensure people are able to seek help fast.”