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Our response to PHSO enquiry into anorexia death

Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, urges the Government and NHS England to take prompt action following the report of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsmen (PHSO) into the preventable death of a young woman from anorexia nervosa. Averil Hart tragically passed away in 2012 at the age of 19. The PHSO found in its report that multiple opportunities to prevent her condition from worsening were missed by a number of organisations charged with her care, and laid out several recommendations that, it is hoped, “…will mean that no other family will go through the same ordeal.”

The report highlights five areas of focus to improve eating disorder services:

  1. Training for all junior doctors on eating disorders to improve understanding of these complex mental health conditions.
  2. Greater provision of eating disorder specialists.
  3. Adult eating disorder services to achieve parity with child and adolescent services.
  4. Better coordination of care between NHS organisations treating people with eating disorders.
  5. National support for local NHS organisations to conduct and learn from serious incident investigations, particularly in circumstances involving several organisations.

Lead Associate Investigator Dr. Bill Kirkup expressed hope that “…this report will act as a wake-up call to the NHS and health leaders to make urgent improvements to services for eating disorders so that we can avoid similar tragedies in the future.”

Andrew Radford, Beat Chief Executive said: “The PHSO report is very clear: if the eating disorder had been recognised earlier and effective and timely care was put in place, Averil Hart’s death would have been prevented. We await a response from the Government and NHS England who must learn and take action following this tragedy; we cannot continue to fail people with eating disorders.

“We must see good, joined-up intensive home- and community-based treatment for people of all ages, and in all locations across the UK. This does require the NHS to reorganise but it will deliver improved outcomes for patients and considerable cost savings to the NHS.”

The Government has set targets to reduce the time children in England spend waiting for treatment, but not for adults. Research by Beat has found that sufferers face an average three-and-a-half-year delay between symptoms developing and treatment starting, even though the likelihood of a prolonged and fast recovery significantly decreases three years after falling ill. Delayed treatment contributes to the NHS spending £4.6bn a year treating eating disorders.

“The government must invest in promoting the importance of seeking help for an eating disorder as soon as possible, so permitting early treatment which would prevent deaths like Averil’s,” says Radford.

“It is also clear there were multiple failings across the health service in the lead-up to this tragedy, and the behaviour of each responsible part of the NHS in evading and obfuscating justice is appalling, and piled even more distress on an already distraught family. This requires further investigation and action taken to ensure it cannot be repeated.”

“This tragedy demonstrates, once again, the devastation eating disorders can cause. The Hart family have not only had to grieve for their daughter, but also had to face the fact that her death could and should have been prevented.”

“We extend our respect to Averil’s family for their courage and determination to see justice for their daughter. This report must help ensure that future eating disorder sufferers don’t suffer the same fate.”