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Challenging the misconceptions on eating disorders we ensure that fewer people suffer in silence

3 min read

Lib Dem peer Baroness Parminter writes to mark Eating Disorder Awareness Week, following her Lords question on ‘Ensuring those suffering from an eating disorder can access treatment and support’

This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The awareness that needs to be raised is not just the extent of eating disorders and how we can improve treatment for those who suffer from them, but also who it affects.

In Parliament on Monday I asked a question to the Government about what they were doing to ensure those suffering from an eating disorder can access treatment and support.

Over 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be affected by eating disorders, with anorexia having the highest mortality of any mental illness.

At the heart of my question was the worsening situation for adults who cannot access support. Hospital admissions have more than doubled in the last six years. Out-patient services for adults are under-resourced and are unable to support people being treated in their own community.

While improvements have been made in children’s eating disorder services, this is not the case for adult services. Sadly the Minister’s reply, although full of warm words, promised only some pilots as yet ‘not exactly pinned down’.  It showed the Government has failed to realise the scale of the challenge.

The Liberal Democrats would extend access to Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services up to the age of 25 as well as introducing waiting time targets for adults now as well as children. Eating disorders affect everyone, both the young and the old, and this would help ensure adults can access the help they need.

Another vital way we can improve the help given to adults with eating disorders is by challenging the stereotypes. BEAT, the leading eating disorder charity released figures this week showing six out of ten UK adults mistakenly believe eating disorders mainly affect young people and that they will grow out of it.  Furthermore, four in ten people believe eating disorders are more common amongst white people than other ethnicities.  So is it any surprise that nearly half of minority ethnicities don’t feel confident asking for help about eating disorders from healthcare professionals? Stereotypes are a barrier to people seeking help and we need to end all the misconceptions around eating disorders if we are to help those facing them. 

The Liberal Democrats are clear that early intervention is vital. Eating disorders are life threatening illnesses, but by focusing on early intervention, the numbers of those suffering with eating disorders could be greatly reduced.  When people do seek help, we must ensure adequate medical support from GPs is there. On average, medical students receive less than two hours of teaching on eating disorders throughout their undergraduate training.  As the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman’s Report “How NHS eating disorder services are failing patients” made clear, this needs to change.  We need those providing medical training – the GMC, the Royal Colleges, the Medical Schools and Universities - to work together to improve eating disorder training for all doctors.

Eating disorders affect far too many, for far too long, and far too often have a devastating effect on so many lives. By raising awareness this week and challenging the misconceptions surrounding eating disorders, as well as campaigning for better treatment, we can all help to ensure that fewer people suffer in silence and are properly treated when they seek the help they desperately need.

Baroness Parminter is a Liberal Democrat peer

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