Some children with urgent need for eating disorder support are waiting more than three months to start treatment, a major analysis has found.
Since 2021-22, the NHS has aimed to see 95% of young people with eating disorders begin treatment within one week for urgent cases and four weeks for non-urgent cases.
But according to the Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza, nearly half (45%) of those urgent cases were waiting more than 12 weeks to start treatment during the third quarter of 2022-23. This stood at 34% among routine cases.
New analysis of NHS data – published today (1 August) – revealed that only 78% of urgent cases and 81% of non-urgent cases were seen in a timely manner during that same period.
These proportions have been falling every year since 2019-20, ‘concerningly’ coinciding with an increase in the number of young people starting treatment following the pandemic, Dame Souza said.
Hospital admissions for eating disorders have risen from 13,200 in 2015-16 to 24,300 in 2020-21, of whom more than half (11,700) were under the age of 25. Around 10,800 women and girls were admitted that year.
It is estimated that 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder.
The Children’s Commissioner urged the NHS to ensure all children are able to better access community care for eating disorders, and called on the Government to tackle potential drivers of disordered eating – particularly harmful online content.
She warned the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) that merging its mental health and wellbeing plan with its major conditions strategy must not ‘dilute’ focus on children’s mental health.
Commenting on the findings, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery, said: ‘With more than 1.8 million people on the waiting list for overstretched and understaffed mental health services, trusts are deeply concerned about levels of unmet need, particularly for children and young people.’
She added: ‘We need significant, long-term investment in and support for prevention and early intervention services to help children and young people sooner and to tackle the pressure of growing demand on the NHS, as well as more beds and safe, therapeutic environments to provide care for those who need it.’