We know that treating people with eating disorders quickly gives the best possible chance of recovery. Unfortunately, on average over three years pass between the symptoms of an eating disorder emerging and treatment starting.* The ongoing pandemic has exacerbated this, with demand for our support services increasing by 134% last year.
Lives are put at risk by these long waiting times. The situation is so bad that we are aware that some people are making themselves more ill in order to get the treatment they deserve. This is unacceptable and we must change it.
We must ensure that our eating disorder services are equipped to cope with the increase in demand seen since the start of the pandemic. We need to ensure that when someone first reaches out for help, they receive the right support and that a referral doesn’t mean many months spent on a waiting list.
The situation varies between the nations of the UK, and what we need to do to make the changes we want to see will differ. On the next page you will find a letter that we have drafted to MPs in England. If you are in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland please get in touch with the team to find out more about what we are doing and how you can take action in your nation.
* Beat (2017) - Delaying for years, denied for months
In January 2019, the NHS Long Term Plan set out national ambitions for the next ten years of the NHS in England that made mental health a key priority. The accompanying ‘Mental Health Implementation Plan’ includes promising initiatives to improve support and treatment for people with eating disorders.
NHS England’s commissioning guidance outlines what patients and carers should be able to expect from adult eating disorder services.
In 2019, the Welsh Eating Disorder Service Review was published with 22 recommendations made, including that waiting time targets for people of all ages were introduced in Wales.
Work is underway to examine what progress has been made since the review.
In March 2021, the Scottish Eating Disorder Services Review was published, with 15 recommendations made.
There is now a national implementation group in place.
In March 2020, the Mental Health Action Plan was published, a specific review of eating disorder services followed this in June 2021.
A new Mental Health Strategy for 2021-2031 was published on 29 June 2021.
In order to demonstrate the impact of eating disorders on sufferers and their families, and to highlight where change is needed, we undertook a large research programme during 2017, resulting in the Delaying for Years, Denied for Months report. Data was reanalysed for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and presented in separate, shorter reports.
In 2018/2019 Beat conducted research into access, waiting times and staffing levels at NHS adult community eating disorder services in England. The findings demonstrate alarming discrepancies in access to specialist treatment, waiting times and staffing levels at adult eating disorder services in England. Our Lives at Risk briefing outlines the key findings and our recommendations for Government and the NHS in England.