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Waiting times for urgent treatment of eating disorders for young people triples during pandemic

The number of young people waiting for urgent treatment for eating disorders has tripled during the pandemic, analysis has revealed.

The Royal College of Psychiatrist’s analysis of NHS data found the number of under-19s waiting for urgent treatment has more than tripled during the pandemic, while the number waiting for routine treatment has more than quadrupled.

Furthermore, the number of under-19s receiving urgent and routine treatment has also reached record levels.

Dr Agnes Ayton, Chair of the Faculty of Eating Disorders Psychiatry, at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The pandemic has had a huge impact on children and young people with disruption to their schooling, social lives and home lives. Many young people have not received support early enough, causing their eating disorders to become much worse and harder to treat.

“Delays to treatment can put lives at risk. Services are struggling with soaring demand, fewer beds because of social distancing, and an ongoing shortage of specialist doctors,” she added.

An estimated 1.25 million people have an eating disorder in the UK and do not discriminate and can affect anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or socioeconomic status. Eating disorders include limiting food consumption, eating large amounts of food, purging, fasting, excessive exercise or a combination of these.

Eating disorders are complex and life-threatening mental illnesses and anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health problem.

The analysis found that at the end of the first quarter (April, May and June) of 2021/22, a year on from the start of the pandemic:

  • 207 patients were waiting for urgent treatment, up from 56 at the same time last year (270% increase).
  • 1,832 patients were waiting for routine treatment, up from 441 at the same time last year (315% increase).
  • 852 patients received urgent treatment, compared to 328 in the first quarter of 2020/21 (160% increase).
  • 2,600 patients received routine treatment, compared to 1,347 in the first quarter of 2020/21 (93% increase).

The government made a commitment to ensure that 95% of under-19s receive treatment within one week for urgent cases and four weeks for every other case by the end of 2020/21. The latest data shows just how far the NHS is from achieving this target as a result of the pandemic.

  • Just 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.
  • Only 73% of patients started routine treatment within four weeks in the first quarter of 2021/22, down from 87% in the first quarter of 2020/21.

Dr Agnes Ayton, Chair of the Faculty of Eating Disorders Psychiatry, at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, concluded: “The government made an ambitious commitment on waiting times, but the pandemic has set us back years. Urgent action is needed to ensure children and young people with eating disorders get the help they need, when they need it.” 

Children and Young People with an eating disorder waiting times

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