Children’s Commissioner concerned over delayed treatments for youngsters with eating disorders in England

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children's Commissioner for England

The Children’s Commissioner for England has voiced her concerns about the number of young people with eating disorders after treatment numbers doubled.

Some 11,800 children and young people began treatment for eating disorders in 2022-23, up from 5,240 in 2016-17.

But, says Dame Rachel de Souza, in nearly half (45 per cent) of urgent cases, patients were waiting more than 12 weeks to begin treatment, almost three times more than the 16 per cent in 2016-17. For routine cases, this drops to 34 per cent in 2022-23 and 20% for 2016-17 respectively.

Since 2021-22, the National Health Service has set a target of 95 per cent of children and young people with eating disorders beginning treatment within one week for urgent cases and 4 weeks for non-urgent cases.

Analysis by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, reveals that the NHS is currently missing this target, with only 78 per cent of urgent and 81 per cent of non-urgent cases seen within the target time frame in the third quarter of 2022-23.

‘It’s worrying that young people face increasingly long waits’

It’s thought around 1.25 million people in the UK currently suffer from an eating disorder, such as bulimia, anorexia or binge-eating. Anorexia is known to have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric condition, which is why Dame Rachel is calling for children and young people to have access to effective, and potentially life-saving treatment in a timely manner.

“It’s worrying that children and young people are facing increasingly long waits for treatment for eating disorders – which are often serious and potentially life-threatening – young people deserve timely access to effective care,” she said.

“The Government must also focus on tackling some of the potential drivers of disordered eating. Children need to be robustly protected from harmful eating disorder content online which can drive body image issues.

“Now is a critical moment with the Government’s Major Conditions Strategy to tackle this growing issue and ensure we remain focused on the needs of children. I hope that in merging the Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan with other major conditions in this strategy, the focus on children’s mental health is not diluted. I have submitted my response and look forward to seeing the Government’s strategy.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the Government was boosting capacity at children and young people’s community eating disorder services across the country, allowing them to treat nearly 50 per cent more young people in 2022-23 than 2019-20. The Government was also, they added, investing an extra £2.3 billion a year in NHS mental health services by March 2024, so more adults, children and young people in England get vital support quicker.

Author: Simon Weedy

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