Rapid investment in the school nursing workforce is needed, sector leaders have said, as data shows that children and young people with an eating disorder are facing unacceptable waits for urgent care.
NHS England data on wait times for children and young people (CYP) with an eating disorder has shown that 44% of CYP considered urgent cases have been waiting for over 12 weeks for treatment.
School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA) CEO, Sharon White, told Nursing in Practice that: ‘Urgent investment into the school nursing workforce is desperately needed so that they can, through their specialist public health roles, prevent, identify and offer early help to prevent escalation of all mental health issues including eating disorders.’
The data revealed that of the 230 urgent cases still on the waiting list for treatment, 102 children have been waiting over three months. For the 1,491 ‘routine cases’ still on the waiting list over a third, 568, had been waiting for over three months.
Dr Agnes Ayton, chair of the Eating Disorders Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: ‘It’s simply unacceptable that more than 100 of the most seriously unwell young people have been forced to wait over 3 months to access specialist treatment.
‘Eating disorder services have been struggling since the early stages of the pandemic to meet rising demand and the pandemic backlog has made it impossible to meet waiting times targets.’
This new data also shows that since January 2020 and this year the number of children and young people waiting to receive routine treatment for an eating disorder more than tripled: jumping from 442 routine cases to 1,491.
The number of urgent and routine cases waiting for over 12 weeks began to rise rapidly in autumn 2020. In October 2020, there were only 13 children considered urgent cases that had waited over 12 weeks, but by April 2021 there were 64. In the same period, the number of routine cases waiting over 3 months rose from 265 to a peak of 762.
Ms White said that this data ‘bears out what school nurses are seeing and hearing as they continue to support so many extremely troubled children, young people and their families awaiting specialist services,’ adding that during the wait for appointments many will deteriorate further and then take much longer to recover.
‘This forms part of an ongoing surge in mental health problems with many others also awaiting CAMHS, some for up to a year. Worryingly, school nurses are left ‘holding’ these CYP without the specialist skills, knowledge and experience required leaving both them and those they care for at additional risk,’ she said.