Last week as part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I was pleased to have the chance to provide the Shadow Mental Health response to a discussion on this important issue.
According to charity Beat, around 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder.
Yet too often eating disorders are shrouded in stigma, so it was good to have an opportunity to both improve awareness and explore ways that we can better support those who are suffering.
We need to reduce the barriers to people seeking help in the first place and then make sure that the help is readily available.
The government’s commitment that by 2020, 95 per cent of children and young people referred with an eating disorder will be seen within one month – or one week if it is diagnosed as urgent – is very welcome.
But with 2020 now only just around the corner I am concerned that this will not be achieved or, even worse, that it will become another ‘fudge’ of figures whereby a patient gets a first appointment within the timescale, but any follow-up and effective treatment plans are still many months after referral.
What’s more, whilst this is all well and good for children and young people, there are still no clear plans for adults with eating disorders.
One local young woman, whose family have contacted me, was diagnosed with an eating disorder at 16 years old.
Due to the severity of her illness she was admitted to hospital for a lengthy stretch.
On release from hospital she was attending fortnightly appointments with an eating disorder specialist.
As her recovery was going well, my constituent decided that she would like to take up the offer of a university place in Manchester – seeing this as a positive step in her healing and a way of getting on with her life.
The local NHS trust that delivers mental health services in my area informed her that she would have to transfer over to Manchester’s adult services.
Neither my constituent nor her family thought too much about this, as it wasn’t raised in such a way that they could foresee any issues.
However, five months on and my constituent is still waiting for the handover to be completed and, sadly, has suffered a serious relapse.
Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident.
There are no specific waiting time targets for adult eating disorders and, with poorly-funded mental health services, many over-stretched mental health trusts are not able to put the necessary resources into these vital services.
As a result, treatment availability has become a hideous postcode lottery, with service access and levels of funding spent varying widely from one area to the next.
There is much to do to make sure that frontline eating disorder services are there to support people who need them.
Early diagnosis and fast access to the right treatments will help prevent people getting more unwell, save the NHS money, prevent hospital admission and save lives. This is what I’ll keep pressing for in Parliament.
As always, if there’s anything I can do to help you or your family on this issue, or any other, please don’t hesitate to contact my constituency office.
You can call 01924 565450, email, email@example.com or write to Paula Sherriff MP, The Old Dewsbury Reporter Building, 17 Wellington Road, Dewsbury, WF13 1HQ.