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Eating disorders: Postcode lottery across England

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Availability of treatment varied drastically Availability of treatment varied drastically between services

Adults with eating disorders in some parts of England have to wait, on average, over ten times longer for treatment than in other areas, creating a postcode lottery for services, the eating disorder charity Beat has warned.

According to a new report from the charity, waiting times at one eating disorder service averaged at five and a half months, while another service had average waiting times of two weeks. Nationally, almost one in five adults have to wait for more than four months to begin treatment.

‘This research should set alarm bells ringing in the Government and NHS. Eating disorders have among the highest mortality rates of any mental illness, yet people’s chances of recovery are being subjected to a lottery and lives are at risk,’ said Beat’s Chief Executive Andrew Radford.

‘Adults with eating disorders are being discriminated against because of their age. The Government have improved services for children and young people through waiting times targets and extra funding, but adults are being left behind. They have committed to testing waiting times targets for adults, and it is vital that these targets are introduced as soon as possible, so that no one is denied treatment when they need help.

The report also found that the availability of treatment varied drastically between services. Some services offered treatment to up to 80 people per 100,000 population, while others accepted between twelve to fifteen for the same population size.

Although staffing levels are similar among the majority of services, the service with the highest staffing levels had nine times as many staff per 100,000 population as the service with the lowest. Without access to specialist staff, many patients have to rely on GPs or nurses who are not trained to deal with eating disorders. This can pose risks to patient safety.

‘This report highlights the varied and serious negative consequences of current inequalities and delays in access to specialist adult eating disorder care,’ said Dr Karina Allen, Senior Clinical Psychologist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. ‘There is an urgent need to change how care is provided so that everyone with an eating disorder can access the help they need. Beat sets out timely recommendations to facilitate this essential progress.’

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