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Record number of children and young people waiting for eating disorder treatment

Anecdotal reports suggest the pandemic has made life difficult for people with eating disorders.

The number of children and young people waiting for eating disorder treatment rose to record levels during the coronavirus pandemic, new figures show.

Data from NHS England shows there were 207 under-19s waiting for urgent eating disorder treatment at the end of June, up from 56 at the same time last year and the highest total in records going back to 2016.

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At a glance: 5 key points

  • Data showed there were a record 1,832 patients waiting for eating disorder treatment at the end of June 2021, a rise from 441 recorded at the end of June 2020. 
  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists said the rise was down to services struggling to provide treatment in the face of “overwhelming” demand.
  • More children and young people are being treated than ever before, the figures show, while the proportion of children and young people starting urgent treatment within one week fell to 61%, down from a record high of 88% in the same period last year.
  • The number of children and young people starting routine treatment for eating disorders rose to its highest level on record at 2,600 between April and June, compared to 1,347 during the same period in 2020.
  • And while 73% of patients started routine treatment within four weeks between April and June, this was down from 87% in the same period of 2020.

What’s been said

Dr Agnes Ayton, chair of its faculty of eating disorders psychiatry, 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.”

Background

It’s estimated that 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, which can present with behaviours like limiting food consumption, purging or excessive exercise.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists said the new data showed how far the NHS was from achieving the Government’s commitment that 95% of under-19s receive treatment for an eating disorder within one week for urgent cases and within four weeks for routine cases by the end of 2020-21.

Additional reporting by PA.

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