UNITED KINGDOM: With an already sharp increase in the number of people experiencing eating disorders in the U.K., one in five patients are now forced to pay for private care as part of their treatment, with families leaving their jobs and living off credit cards to support loved ones, a report reveals.
The huge financial impact of conditions such as anorexia and bulimia is laid bare in a study showing in England alone the cost of eating disorders was £8bn in 2020, rising to £9.4bn across the U.K. This includes a £4.8bn loss of productivity as people cannot work, healthcare costs of £1.7bn and carers costs of £1.1bn, said a report in the Guardian.
Almost a quarter of patients who provided evidence said they were forced to pay privately for part of their treatment because of delays in NHS support or the waiting period or a lack of ongoing support.
A 24-year-old male patient said he was unable to work for three years after being hospitalised and now pays £150 a month for nutritional support.
One parent said their family ended up “living off credit cards” to treat their child. “The amount of food, then the waste of food, travel, money spent trying to make up for lost opportunities. Eight months off work meant a much-reduced salary,” they said.
The Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on eating disorders, said there was something “very wrong” with how eating disorders were treated in the U.K.
The study, by the psychiatrist Agnes Ayton, the psychiatric geneticist Prof Gerome Breen and the campaigner Hope Virgo, included evidence from people with eating disorders and carers, as well as analysis from EY on the costs of illness.
Breen said: “This report underlines the massive impact eating disorders have across all age groups. We’ve been able to do some research that indicates tractable biology which could form the basis of novel therapeutics, but increased research funding is needed to develop these.”
Eating disorder services and the NHS are facing exhaustion with waiting times for urgent cases tripling in a year with the coronavirus pandemic. The report stated as “an overrun, broken system” had “fallen to its knees” and needed urgent change. It is calling for ringfenced funding and better training for all doctors and frontline staff to manage eating disorder emergencies.