Research has shown that, on average, UK undergraduate medical students receive less than two hours of teaching on eating disorders, throughout their entire medical degree. Even more concerningly, 20% of medical schools do not include eating disorders at all in their teaching. Given that 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder, and around 5% of the population will be affected at some point in lifetime, this is something that needs to change.
In my six years of medical school, I have had less than an hour’s teaching on eating disorders. Now, I work in a busy Emergency Department. I began to notice there were patients coming in displaying behaviours and thinking patterns I easily recognised from my own experience of an eating disorder. However, every clinician I brought this up to said the same thing: “We don’t see a lot of patients with eating disorders”. Again and again: “Eating disorders are not a common problem”, and worse: “Eating disorders are not treatable anyway”. I couldn’t believe how little they knew and how old-fashioned their views were.
Eating disorders are highly complex mental illnesses, but they are treatable. Just two hours of training is not enough time to equip medical students with the knowledge to identify the physiological and psychological signs and symptoms and provide the necessary interventions to help sufferers access the most appropriate treatment at the earliest opportunity.
My daughter was sent away after the first appointment to come back in six months. She deteriorated. We returned after five months and were then sent away for another month…On the third appointment he realised how serious things had become and she saw a specialist in two days. But what price the delay?
We know there are some fantastic medical practitioners out there and we want every person who presents with an eating disorder to experience this high-quality care. We are campaigning to ensure that every new doctor completes their training with the knowledge and skills to best support someone with an eating disorder, whatever area of medicine they work in.
My daughter has not fully recovered but [if it wasn’t] for GP care she might not be alive at all. The care shown by our GPs to the whole family has been exemplary.
If you would like to support the work on this campaign, just fill in the form and we’ll be in touch. You may have had a good or bad experience with a doctor that you can share with us. If you are a medical student or doctor, you may have some specific good or bad experiences of training on eating disorders that you can share with us. The power of the campaign depends on the voices of those who have lived experience of the issue, so we’d love to hear from you.
February 2017 - GP petition
Petition launched to call for increased training on eating disorders for future GPs.
December 2017 – PHSO Report
‘Ignoring the Alarms: How NHS eating disorder services are failing patients’ report published. The investigation found multiple failings in patient care, and gave five recommendations for national improvement, including highlighting the need for improvements in the training of doctors and other medical professionals about eating disorders.
June 2018 – Medical training petition
Research found that the total number of hours spent on eating disorder teaching in UK medical schools is less than two hours. Informed by this and the PHSO report Beat widens the scope of the campaign and launches a petition calling for increased training for all medical students and junior doctors.
Campaigner win (June 2018)
Beat Campaigner Emily was successful in her lobbying of UCL medical school to increase teaching on eating disorders. She said of her success: “I can’t tell you how much this win means to me. Knowing that my work will lead to more trained doctors, and therefore more early diagnoses, makes me even more motivated to tackle the next medical school on my list!”
March 2019 – Roundtable in Parliament
The General Medical Council and Baroness Parminter held a roundtable meeting in the House of Lords to discuss eating disorders in medical training. Those attending heard from people with lived experience of an eating disorder, and there was discussion about how the attendees could collaborate in the future.
June 2019 – PACAC inquiry
18 months on from the publication of the ‘Ignoring the Alarms’ report, an inquiry was launched to highlight the report’s findings and investigate what progress had been made in implementing the recommendations.
2019/2020 – New training package developed
As part of the PACAC’s inquiry recommendations, a collaboration between Health Education England, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Beat leads to the production of a new training package for medical students and foundation years.
April 2021 – Training package launched
New training package for medical students and foundation years is finalised and the resources will be made available free of charge to all medical schools and foundation training schools.
Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Report (2017)
House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Report (2019)
Agnes Ayton, Ali Ibrahim (2018)