Children and young people in England with eating disorders are facing a ‘postcode lottery’ as overstretched services struggle to meet rising demand, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP).
Eating disorder services are being ‘flooded’ with referrals for children and young people (CYP), according to the RCP, with a 66% increase in urgent patients since 2019 and a 48% increase in routine care.
Every region across England is now failing to meet the Government’s target for 95% of urgent and routine patients to be seen within one or four weeks respectively.
This comes after the Parliamentary Health Service called for ‘urgent action’ to prevent eating disorder deaths.
Ombudsman Rob Behrens said that ‘those on the frontline treating people have a tremendously difficult job to do. This not helped by a lack of any sense of urgency to address the scale of the problem.’
The RCP found that CYP across the country are now being forced to contend with long waits and risk becoming seriously ill while waiting to start treating.
In London, CYP have the shortest waiting time for urgent referrals but must contend with the longest wait times in the country for routine care. Despite this, London is cutting money for services by 2.6% (£300k) according to RCP analysis.
Dr Agnes Ayton, chair of the eating disorder faculty at the RCP, said: ‘It’s simply not acceptable that waiting times have increased when we are seeing record levels of referrals for children and young people. This is a warning that we gave three years ago and it beggars belief that nothing has changed.
‘Overstretched services are already struggling to meet demand, so how can we continue to subject these children and young people to a postcode lottery?’
To mark Eating Disorders Awareness Week, the RCP has called on the Government to increase medical school places to 15,000 by 2028/29 and support NHS trusts to meet an annual 4% improvement target in retaining mental health staff.
The NHS is currently facing a significant increase in pressure on mental health services for CYP. According to the latest available data there was a 39% rise in the number of under-18s referred to NHS mental health services in the year 2021-22.
In the two years since the start of the pandemic there has also been an 82% rise in the number of hospital admissions for eating disorders among young people; up to 7,719 from 4,232 only two years prior.
Sharon White, CEO of the School and Public Health Nurses Association, said: ‘School nurses are witnessing a very steep rise in children and young people experiencing disordered eating. Disinvestment in our services means we can no longer respond easily to those early concerns.’
‘Where assessment and referral is required there is a growing challenge for CYP to be assessed by specialist services with significant and. growing waiting times. This is resulting in many children, young people, schools, families struggling to access help; leading to complex and advanced eating disorders.’