UNITED KINGDOM: A record number of children and young people are waiting for the treatment of potentially life-threatening eating disorders, by the NHS as psychiatrists warn of waiting times for urgent cases tripling in a year with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists said services were struggling to provide timely treatment in the face of “overwhelming” demand.
Experts have warned that the number of people experiencing eating disorders has increased sharply amid the pandemic with conditions such as anorexia on the rise in the isolation of lockdown. Disruption to health services has set back treatment for young people “by years” and could leave lives at risk.
NHS data England shows that at the end of the first quarter (April, May and June) of 2021-22, 207 under-19s were waiting for urgent treatment, up from 56 at the same time last year.
Only 61% of patients started urgent treatment within one week in the first quarter of 2021-22, the lowest proportion since 2016-17, down from a record high of 88% in the first quarter of 2020-21.
The figures also showed that there was a record 1,832 patients waiting for routine treatment at the end of June, up from 441 at the end of June 2020.
Approximately 1.25 million people have an eating disorder in the U.K., which is fatal. Anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates.
Disordered eating behaviours include limiting food consumption, eating large amounts of food, binging and purging, fasting or excessive exercise in response to eating, or a combination of these.
The government made a commitment to ensure that 95% of under-19s received treatment within one week for urgent cases and four weeks for every other case by the end of 2020-21. But the latest data shows how far the NHS is from achieving this target as a result of the pandemic.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for additional funding announced by the government to reach frontline services as soon as possible.
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health, said: “The pandemic has taken its toll on the country’s mental health and staff have responded rapidly to treat children and young people with eating disorders. Thanks to additional funding of £79m this year on top of dedicated services already rolled out in every part of the country, the NHS has treated more people with an eating disorder than ever before.”