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NHS staff shortage puts children and young people at risk

Record numbers of children and young people are waiting too long for urgent eating disorder treatment in England.

This is putting even more pressure on under-resourced NHS eating disorder services. So along with our friends at Mind, we’re drawing attention to the NHS’s own data —  which shows April 2021-March 2022 was the worst performing year in record history.

In fact, the latest statistics from NHS England show:

Meet Jenny

Jenny Tan, 19, from Woking. She experienced a three-week wait for her treatment to start — after being referred to an eating disorder clinic by her GP.

“Going into the wait after my diagnosis, I didn’t expect much, because the system had messed me around quite a lot up to that point. But during that wait for my treatment, I felt very stressed as they gave me very little information about what the next steps would actually be, and I had no idea how long I was going to wait. My parents were worried too, and were given little in the way of support. 

I felt like I was in limbo, and didn’t really know what I was waiting for. I’m not sure if the lack of details was because of Covid, but it really did feel like stepping into the unknown."

Tom Quinn, our Director of External Affairs says: 

‘Children and young people are waiting longer for NHS treatment than ever before — and it’s deeply concerning. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on those with eating disorders, with many experiencing increased anxiety and isolation for the past two years. We’ve seen more people ask for help with a first-time eating disorder, worsening symptoms for those with an existing eating disorder, and relapses for others who were in recovery.

NHS staff have worked incredibly hard to support their patients, and more children and young people have started eating disorder treatment than ever before.  But NHS eating disorder services are incredibly overstretched and underfunded. They haven't been provided the support needed to meet the ever-growing demand for treatment.

This is putting young people’s lives at risk.

Over 1,900 children and young people were waiting for NHS eating disorder treatment at the end of March 2022. And almost four out of 10  had waited over 3 months. Accessing quality treatment as soon as possible offers the best chance of recovery from an eating disorder — and it’s extremely worrying that both urgent and routine cases are having to wait longer for NHS treatment.

The Government and NHS England  should urgently develop a fully-funded mental health recovery plan, that provides quick access to treatment. This must address gaps in the workforce, by increasing supply of trained clinical staff to fill vacancies, being creative with new staffing models, and partnering with the voluntary sector so frontline staff have the resources and support they need to help every patient. The Government must also hold local NHS leaders to account to ensure eating disorder funding reaches the frontline.

If you’re worried about yourself or a loved one, reach out to your GP and ask for an urgent appointment. You can also contact a local eating disorder service at the earliest opportunity. Our Helpline is open 365 days a year.

Sophie Corlett, Director of External Affairs at Mind, said:  

“Our government is shamefully failing children and young people with eating disorders when they need help most. Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health problem. Children in need of urgent NHS treatment for eating disorders should always be seen within one week, yet some are still waiting for treatment after 12 weeks. This is irresponsible and disgraceful.

The UK Government must urgently bring down these waiting times. Immediately, the NHS should work with organisations and groups that provide support for people's mental health in their local communities — those who can help tackle problems earlier, reducing pressures on NHS services. After years of historic underfunding of mental health services, coupled with the mental health toll of a global pandemic and cost of living crisis, we must see urgent investment in NHS mental health services, so that everyone who needs it can access timely treatment. The recently announced  10 Year Plan must also set out how the UK Government intends to identify and tackle the many causes of poor mental health — including problems with housing, employment, finances and benefits.

Without urgent support and investment, our mental healthcare system will continue to fail adults when they need help most, but also children, with potentially fatal consequences.”

How can I help?

Simple. Support our ‘End The Wait’ campaign.

Why? Early intervention and treatment make all the difference. And yet our latest research shows that on average, it takes three years to start treatment for eating disorders.

You deserve better than that, and so do your children. So help us ensure eating disorder services are equipped to handle the rising number of people affected by these devastating mental illnesses.