Kids with eating disorders put to one side because of Covid, experts warn

The NHS has released latest statistics on the number of Children and Young People (up to the age of 19) with an Eating Disorder who have accessed or are waiting for treatment, and the figures reveal that hundreds are still waiting for their treatment to start, with some still waiting even though they’re classified as ‘urgent cases’.

The release shows that in the first quarter of this dramatic and testing year, 441 routine cases were still waiting for treatment to start since they sought help and were referred, with a further 56 urgent cases still waiting.

Analysis of today’s statistics by UKAT’s Eating Disorder Practitioner Dimitra Theofili reveals that the number of urgent cases still waiting for treatment has TRIPLED since the previous quarter alone, a trend she says should be going in the opposite direction.

“Of course the service is going to receive additional cases to manage and look after each quarter, but these figures suggest that more and more children with urgent treatment needs are simply being added to an ever growing pile.”

Of the 441 routine cases still waiting for treatment, 15% (66) have been waiting for between 4 and 12 weeks, with a further 85 children still waiting for treatment to start some 12 weeks since their cry for help.

147 children with routine eating disorder cases are waiting between 1-4 weeks since their referral and 143 are within the 1 week since referral bracket.

Worryingly, UKAT’s analysis of the figures shows that there are some 56 children classed as requiring urgent treatment for their eating disorder which are still waiting for treatment to start, 5 of which have already been waiting between 4-12 weeks, and 3 are still waiting 12 weeks since their urgent referral for help.

In the previous quarter, Q4 of 2019, only 18 children classified as having an urgent eating disorder were still waiting for treatment, suggesting that this year’s Covid-19 crisis has created a dangerous bottleneck of kids needing help and not receiving it.

The majority of urgent cases still waiting for treatment to begin are based in the South West, where 14 children await treatment from their local NHS service, followed by 12 children with urgent eating disorder needs still waiting in the South East, and 10 children in the East. 9 children with urgent cases await treatment in the North West, 5 in the North East, 4 in the Midlands and 2 in London.

Dimitra Theofili, Eating Disorder Practitioner at UKAT’s eating disorder specialist facility Banbury Lodge comments;

“The fact that there are 56 children requiring urgent treatment for their eating disorder condition and are still waiting for their treatment is appalling, quite frankly they are being let down. We understand and appreciate that this has been a difficult and testing year for the NHS, but we do think that if the Government had provided more transparent guidance as to what health services should still be accessed, alongside the Coronavirus crisis, then we might not see so many children with potentially life-threatening eating disorder conditions STILL waiting for their treatment to begin.

“This is a progressive illness, meaning it gets worse with time, and they do not have the time to wait.”

And it does seem like the NHS are aware of this. In today’s statistical report, the NHS themselves suggest that by 2020, 95% of urgent cases should start treatment within 1 week of referral, a figure that currently stands at 87.8%. For children with routine eating disorder cases, the NHS target is that 95% of patients should start treatment within 4 weeks of referral, a figure that currently stands at 86.8%.

Theofili continues;

“There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done to protect these incredibly vulnerable children who are struggling with a misunderstood yet extremely dangerous and time-sensitive condition. A child who asks for help for their eating disorder has taken the first and most important step in their road to recovery and for them to be ignored for months is just not good enough. Time is of the essence when it comes to treating eating disorders, especially in young people.”

Across the UKAT group, admissions for eating disorders has risen by over 200% since 2016, and in 2019, 8% of all admissions were for eating disorders.

Dimitra goes on to discuss why eating disorders in children and young adults is on the rise;

“Social media creates unrealistic expectations about body and shape. This is more evident and impactful in adolescents and young adults. Instagram and Snapchat seem to be the chosen platforms because of the ability to alter the way their face looks with the use of filters, some which are actually named “perfect face”. They’re quite literally suggesting that the user’s face is not perfect; how is this meant to make a 13 year old feel about themselves?

“There are also widely promoted diets that advocate not eating carbohydrates. This impacts on blood sugar levels in the child’s body which then affects the level of serotonin in the brain, which alters their levels of well-being and feelings of happiness.

“Eating disorders also affect boys, yet they’re more unlikely to ask for help. Our experience is that binge eating is the most common form of eating disorder affecting boys.”

Earlier this week, the NHS announced that “Young people who suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are set to receive rapid access to specialist NHS treatment across England”, and that it will “upsurge an early intervention service to support young people in the early stages of eating disorders” – it’s almost like they knew these figures were set for release a few days later!

For 24/7 confidential and instant help with eating disorders, visit www.ukat.co.uk/eating-disorders/v66/