People with eating disorders face delays for treatment of six months after referral, Beat reveals

Long waits to receive treatment for an eating disorder can make the illness worse, Beat says

Long waits to receive treatment for an eating disorder can make the illness worse, Beat says - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A Suffolk mother has spoken about the emotional and financial challenges of caring for a loved one with an eating disorder as a charity claims long waits for treatment are damaging patients’ chances of recovery.

Andrew Radford, chief executive of national eating disorder charity, Beat. Picture: BEAT

Andrew Radford, chief executive of national eating disorder charity, Beat. Picture: BEAT - Credit: Archant

An investigation by Beat has found it takes sufferers on average more than 18 months to realise they have an eating disorder and more than a year following this before they seek help.

There is then an average delay of six months between patients first visiting a GP and receiving treatment.

This means there is a gap of around three-and-a-half years between symptoms emerging and sufferers starting a course of therapy.

Beat says treating anorexia becomes harder after three years so this hold-up makes recovery less likely.


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A woman from east Suffolk, who wants to remain anonymous, said her daughter developed bulimia three years ago but had still not started treatment.

She said: “My daughter’s bulimia has continued, she has huge restrictions on what she will eat and is caught in a binge-purge cycle. We’ve had to pay privately for a dietician and despite recommendations from clinicians to see a specialist eating disorder team, no treatment has yet started.

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“It’s hard to talk about the emotional impact, it’s utterly draining to see someone you love struggling. We don’t want to exclude her from the family time we spend together, but eating together – either at home or out, is really difficult.

“I’ve had to stop working which has put financial pressure on us as a family, particularly with the extra cost of treatment and buying extra foodstuffs we know she’s comfortable eating – ultimately if the NHS refuse to fund the specialist treatment, we will need to find a way.”

The research by national eating disorder charity Beat is based on surveys completed by almost 1,500 people referred for treatment between 2007 and 2017.

Andrew Radford, chief executive of Beat, said the findings were “very concerning”.

He added: “This research has shed new light on where the delays in finding treatment lie. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and when people are treated within three years of falling ill, they are much more likely to have a quick and sustained recovery.”

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines say “people with eating disorders should be assessed and receive treatment at the earliest opportunity” and the charity is calling on the Government to do more to encourage people to seek help quickly.

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