People showing signs of being seriously ill with eating disorders are often not being picked up by healthcare professionals because of a lack of training, a royal college has warned.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists has highlighted that hospital admissions for eating disorders have increased by 84% in the last five years, reaching a total of 24,268 admissions.
The college’s analysis of hospital data for eating disorders has showed 11,049 more admissions in 2020/21 compared to 2015/16.
Children and young people with eating disorders are the worst affected, with a rise of 90% in the five-year period, from 3,541 to 6,713 episodes, and a 35.4% increase in the last year alone.
A stark rise of 128% has also been seen in boys and young men – from 280 hospital admissions in 2015/16 to 637 in 2020/2021.
The college also said it had seen “an alarming” increase of 79% in adults across the five years.
However, health workers are missing eating disorders because of a lack of training and accessible guidance for frontline staff, the college said.
The main barrier to spotting patients at risk is that, even when seriously unwell, people with eating disorders can appear to be healthy, with normal blood tests.
In an attempt to address the problem the college has launched new guidelines to help healthcare professionals identify and manage eating disorders when they become life-threatening.
The guidance, Medical emergencies in eating disorders, is designed to help make it easier for healthcare professionals to spot people with eating disorders needing urgent care.
Dr Dasha Nicholls, who chaired the development of the Medical Emergencies in Eating Disorders Guidelines, said: “Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating don’t discriminate, and can affect people of any age and gender. They are mental health disorders, not a ‘lifestyle choice’, and we shouldn’t underestimate how serious they are.
“If we are to stop the eating disorders epidemic in its tracks, it’s vital that this guidance reaches healthcare professionals urgently and that government backs them with the necessary resources to implement them,” she added.