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NICE releases new guideline for eating disorders

Today the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published a new guideline for the treatment of eating disorders for the first time since 2004. Put together by a committee of experts and based on robust research into how best to treat these serious mental illnesses, the NICE guideline should be the first port of call for healthcare professionals treating someone with an eating disorder. It applies in full in England, with decisions about its application in the rest of UK made by the devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The process for writing the guideline includes feedback from professional organisations, such as Beat, and from people with experience of eating disorders – you might have been involved in giving feedback on the draft at the end of last year. The final version provides invaluable guidance to healthcare professionals, and should help them give their patients the best possible treatment.

The guideline is very thorough in scope.

Read it in full here

Below are some key points that we hope will be particularly positive for people seeking treatment.

Where an eating disorder is suspected, there should be no delay in referral.

The new guideline is clear on the importance of early treatment, saying: “If an eating disorder is suspected after an initial assessment, refer immediately to a community-based, age-appropriate eating disorder service for further assessment or treatment.” Early intervention is a key focus of Beat’s work – the earlier someone can get into treatment for an eating disorder, the better their chance of a full, sustained recovery.

Physical measurements should never be used as the sole indicators of an eating disorder.

The guideline stresses that healthcare professionals should not “use single measures such as BMI or duration of illness to determine whether to offer treatment for an eating disorder”, nor “use an absolute weight or BMI threshold when deciding whether to admit people with an eating disorder to day patient or inpatient care.” We know many people struggle to access treatment because their BMI is not “low enough”, so it is heartening to see that the updated NICE guideline takes such a strong stance when it comes to physical indicators.

There should be clear care plans for people admitted to inpatient treatment.

The final version makes clear that inpatient care plans should “give clear objectives and outcomes for the admission”, “be developed in collaboration with the person, their family members or carers (as appropriate), and the community-based eating disorder service”, and “set out how they will be discharged, how they will move back to community-based care, and what this care should be.” This not only provides both patients and those supporting them with an understanding of what to expect from inpatient treatment, but helps ensure a smoother transition once inpatient treatment is finished

People should not travel long distances for treatment.

Where the draft said that treatment should take place in age-appropriate facilities “as near to their home as possible”, the final version of the guideline simply says “near to their home”, taking into account feedback from Beat. This addresses the long distances that many people with eating disorders have to travel for treatment, and by extension the long distance from family and friends, who often form a vital part of their support network.

Healthcare professionals aren’t legally obliged to treat eating disorders according to the NICE guideline, but they are expected to take it fully into account when considering the best treatment for their patients. The NICE guideline is clear that decisions about treatment should be made in consultation with the patient (and their guardian where appropriate), and be tailored to their individual needs.

If you are worried about yourself or about someone else, approaching the GP is a good first step. The NICE guideline is clear on what treatment you should be able to expect.

To help you to prepare for a GP appointment, Beat offers a resource that you can download here or order through Our Helpline team are available 4pm-10pm seven days a week to talk things through with you before or after the appointment – call the main Helpline on 0808 801 0677 or the Youthline on 0808 801 0711.

Beat wants to see everyone have faster access to better treatment. Click here to find out how you can get involved with our campaigns.