Children turning to medical help for eating disorders in Lancashire

Experts fears over rise in youngsters needing help in the county

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 3:45 pm
Hundreds of children received eating disorder treatment at the Lancashire and South Cumbria Trust

Hundreds of children received treatment for eating disorders at the Lancashire and South Cumbria Trust last year.

Mental health charities say the national rise in demand for help with eating disorders during the Covid-19 pandemic is “deeply worrying”.

NHS England data shows 312 children and young people aged under 19 started treatment for routine cases of eating disorders at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust in 2020.

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A further 36 under-19s began treatment for urgent cases.

The figures cover treatment for conditions such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders.

No previous comparable local figures were available, but between October and December 700 urgent cases were seen across England – more than for any other three-month period since records began in 2016-17.

That was well above the 377 treated over the same period a year earlier. Routine cases also increased to a record 2,554.

Eating disorder charity Beat said the rise was concerning but expected, as demand for its helpline services had more than doubled over the course of the pandemic.

Director of external affairs Tom Quinn said: “It is extremely important that children and young people are able to find effective treatment quickly as the sooner someone is treated the more likely they are to make a full and fast recovery.”

NHS targets say 95 per cent of patients should begin urgent treatment within one week of referral in 2020-21, and the same proportion of routine cases should begin within four weeks.

At Lancashire and South Cumbria Trust, no patients waited more than a week to start urgent treatment last year.

And seven young people waited more than four weeks to begin routine treatment, which means 97.8 per cent received help within the timeframe.

Across England, the proportion of urgent and routine cases seen within target times has dropped.

Mental health charity YoungMinds said it is “deeply worrying” that more young people need support for eating disorders, and that many are waiting too long to get treatment.

Director of communications and campaigns Tom Madders said: “The factors behind eating disorders are often complex, but the pandemic has left many young people isolated, uncertain about the future and less in control. Many may also have lost access to their usual routines and coping mechanisms.

“Early support can make a huge difference and prevent problems from escalating.”

He added that the Government must “re-double its efforts” to improve NHS services.

Minister for mental health, Nadine Dorries, said: “I know just how important it is that people with an eating disorder get the support they need when they need it.

“We are investing more each year in community eating disorder services for adults, children and young people. We know early intervention is vital which is why NHS England is launching early intervention services for young people with eating disorders, meaning they could begin treatment within two weeks."

An NHS spokeswoman said: "The pandemic turned lives upside down and hit young people particularly hard, but community eating disorder services continue to step up to treat increasing numbers that require care."