Adults are facing long waits and a postcode lottery to access specialist treatment for eating disorders, according to a leading charity.
In a report published by eating disorder charity Beat, figures found that only 26% of adults started treatment within four weeks of referral in 2017/2018, in contrast to 81% of routine referrals for children and young people.
The government is investing an extra £30m a year into eating disorder services for children and young people and has set targets of a maximum wait of four weeks for routine cases and one week for urgent cases.
However, the Beat research found a different picture for adult services, with almost one in five adults waiting longer than 18 weeks in 2017/2018, and almost one in ten having to wait longer than 24 weeks to start treatment.
The average waiting time in 2017/2018 was nine weeks, with major variation between
providers – a twelvefold difference between the shortest and longest average wait. The
longest average waiting time was 5.5 months, with two other providers reporting averages
longer than four months.
Figures also illustrated the average waiting times when the providers are grouped by NHS
region. London and the South East had the longest waiting times with more than 12 weeks, while the South West and North East and Yorkshire had the lowest waiting times at six weeks.
Beat sent freedom of information requests to 44 NHS Trusts and two Community Interest Companies. Every NHS Trust contacted responded. Beat stated it received responses from 96% of relevant providers of adult community eating disorder services.
The report, titled The state of NHS adult community eating disorder services in England, looked into access, waiting times and staffing levels at adult community eating disorder services in England with the aim to learn more about the capacity of these services and the consequences for patients.
‘This research should set alarm bells ringing in the government and NHS,’ said Andrew Radford, chief executive at Beat. ‘Eating disorders have among the highest mortality rates of any mental illness, yet people’s chances of recovery are being subjected to a lottery and lives are at risk.’
‘Adults with eating disorders are being discriminated against because of their age,’ Radford continued, ‘the government have improved services for children and young people through waiting times targets and extra funding, but adults are being left behind.’
‘There must also be investment to ensure that services have the resources to provide specialist treatment as soon as possible for adults. Investment now will prevent people becoming more ill, saving lives and saving the NHS money,’ Radford concluded.
Beat is encouraging the government, the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS England to prioritise the introduction of an Access and Waiting Time Standard for adult community eating disorder services, supported by sufficient funding and workforce planning. The charity is also calling on NHS England, NHS Improvement and NHS Digital to ensure collection and publication of data concerning NHS adult community eating disorder services.