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Shortage of NHS staff is putting children and young people’s lives at risk, say leading mental health charities

Thursday, 12 May 2022 Mind

Record numbers of children and young people are waiting too long for urgent eating disorder treatment in England, putting even greater pressure on under-resourced NHS eating disorder services, according to leading mental health charities. The NHS’s own data – highlighted by Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, and Mind, a leading mental health charity in England and Wales - reveal that April 2021-March 2022 was the poorest performing year since records began in in 2016-17.

The latest statistics from NHS England show:

· Only 61% of urgent cases were treated within 1 week target, and just 67% of routine cases were treated within the 4 week target between April 2021 to March 2022. These are the lowest annual percentages since records began in 2016/17.

· 12,457 children and young people began treatment between April 2021 and March 2022, which is a testament to the hard work of NHS staff. The number of children and young people starting NHS eating disorder treatment has drastically increased by over a half since pre-pandemic levels.

· 1946 children and young people were still waiting for treatment at end of March 2022, which is almost 3.5 times more than the end of March 2020.

· 39% of children and young people who were still waiting for treatment at the end of Q4 had already been waiting for over 3 months.

Jenny Tan, 19, from Woking, who experienced a 3 week wait for her treatment to start after being referred to an eating disorder clinic by her GP, shared her experience of waiting for help:

“Going into the wait after my diagnosis, I didn’t expect much, because the system had messed me around quite a lot up to that point. But during that wait for my treatment, I felt very stressed as they gave me very little information about what the next steps would actually be, and I had no idea how long I was going to wait. My parents were worried too, and were given little in the way of support.

“I felt like I was in a limbo state, and didn’t really know what I was waiting for. I’m not sure if the lack of details was because of Covid, but it really did feel like stepping into the unknown.”

Tom Quinn, Beat’s Director of External Affairs says:

“It is deeply concerning that children and young people with an eating disorder are waiting longer for NHS treatment than ever before. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on those with eating disorders, with many experiencing heightened anxiety and isolation during the past two years. We have seen more people seeking help for an eating disorder for the first time, worsening symptoms for those with an existing eating disorder, and relapses for others who were in recovery.

“NHS staff have been working incredibly hard to support their patients, and more children and young people have started eating disorder treatment than ever before. But NHS eating disorder services are incredibly overstretched and underfunded, and have not been provided with the support they need to meet the ever-growing increase in demand for eating disorder treatment. This is putting young people’s lives at risk.

“Over 1,900 children and young people were waiting for NHS eating disorder treatment at the end of March 2022, and almost 4 out of 10 of these people had been waiting for over 3 months. Accessing quality treatment as soon as possible leads to the best chance of recovery from an eating disorder, and it is extremely worrying that both urgent and routine cases are having to wait longer for NHS treatment.

“The Government and NHS England must urgently develop a fully-funded mental health recovery plan that enables every person with an eating disorder to access treatment quickly. This must include addressing gaps in the workforce, by increasing the supply of trained clinical staff to fill vacancies, being creative with new staffing models, and partnering with the voluntary sector so that frontline staff have the resources and support they need to help every patient. The Government must also hold local NHS leaders to account to ensure eating disorder funding reaches the frontline.

“If anybody is worried about themselves or somebody they know, they should get in contact with their GP and ask for an urgent appointment, or contact a local eating disorder service at the earliest opportunity.”

Sophie Corlett, Director of External Affairs at Mind, said:

“Our government is shamefully failing children and young people with eating disorders at the time when they need help most. Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health problem. Children in need of urgent NHS treatment for eating disorders should always be seen within one week yet some children are still waiting for treatment after twelve weeks. This is irresponsible and disgraceful.

“The UK Government must urgently bring down these waiting times. Immediately, the NHS should work with organisations and groups that provide support for people's mental health in their local communities who can help tackle problems earlier, reducing pressures on NHS services. After years of historic underfunding of mental health services, coupled with the mental health toll of a global pandemic and cost of living crisis, we must see urgent investment in NHS mental health services, so that everyone who needs it can access timely treatment. The recently announced 10 year plan must also set out how the UK Government

intends to identify and tackle the many causes of poor mental health, including problems with housing, employment, finances and benefits.

“Without urgent support and investment, our mental health care system will continue not just to fail adults when they need help most, but children too, with potentially fatal consequences.”

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