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Eating disorders hit ‘crisis point’ during lockdown, says minister



Eating disorders have reached a ‘crisis point’ during the Covid lockdown and more trained professionals are needed to deal with them, minister Nadine Dorries told a group of MPs.

Services dealing with eating disorders had seen a 22% rise in demand in the last 11 months, Ms Dorries explained to the health and social care committee this week.

‘Eating disorders were on the rise before the pandemic begun,’ the minister told the MPs. But she added the Covid crisis and lockdown put ‘strain on young women who had been concealing, managing and living with eating disorders so it kind of came to a crisis point during lockdown’.

This comes as extra £40m has been allocated this week to address the impact of Covid-19 on children and young people’s mental health. Of this, £10m is for extra beds at units that provide care for young people with complex needs including eating disorders, or for alternative support if needed.

The money will be used for a number of schemes including support services to prevent the need for admission and to train staff working with children with mental health issues around mental health, even if they are not specialist mental health staff.

She was asked whether the Government’s goal of reaching 35% of school pupils with mental health support teams by 2023 showed ‘a lack of ambition’. Labour MP Barabara Keeley asked: ‘Should we not really be accelerating that to cover the entire country as soon as possible?’

But Ms Dorries stressed the Government has been playing ‘catch up’ over mental health because of a ‘huge underfunding issue’ under past governments before 2016.

She said: ‘I have no barrier when I request money for mental health from Treasury, this is a problem that government wants to solve. It’s a case of we need the people through to deliver the services – that is happening now, it’s work in process now.’

Health and social care committee chair Jeremy Hunt asked whether overall funding flows needed to be altered ‘to make sure more community provision is available’.

Ms Dorries agreed that mental health services including for eating disorders were ‘better delivered’ in the community but training the staff to do so ‘doesn’t happen overnight’.

Ms Dorries also confirmed only 40% of children and young people with mental health issues overall were accessing services, although this is up from 25% in 2016.

In January, the children’s commissioner for England’s annual report called on the Government to commit to implementing a mental health support team to schools in every region in England.

The RCN outlined why it believed a school nurse was needed in every school in a blog for Nursing in Practice earlier this year.

There is growing concern over a youth mental health crisis because of lockdown and school closures, as explored in Nursing in Practice’s in-depth look at the cost of coronavirus to children this month.