Adults and young people with food allergies and eating disorders in the UK are not getting the help and support they need, a US medical meeting and a royal college have warned.
First, research presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Annual Meeting found that, too often, GPs did not take patients with food allergies seriously, while other healthcare professionals minimised or dismissed their anxieties.
The research is part of the Global Access to Psychological Services for Food Allergy Study (GAPS), which has surveyed more than 1,500 people across 10 different countries.
As one respondent told the researchers: “In terms of any emotional support, there wasn’t anything at all there and if anything, I felt stupid and like I was wasting their time and yeah it was absolutely no help at all.”
Another noted a lack of guarantees that there was no cross-contamination in foods they were eating and the perception that servers do not even try to ensure foods were safe.
Linda Herbert, psychologist and director of the psychosocial clinical programme in allergy and immunology at the Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC, told the website Healio: “There were experiences with the health care systems that were challenging.”
One respondent, she pointed out, had summarised an interaction with healthcare professionals as: “You’ve got anaphylaxis, here are some EpiPens, bye.”
Second, the Royal College of Psychiatrists is warning that eating disorder services in England have been “flooded” with referrals for children and young people over the past three years, with 51% more patients overall, both routine and urgent, requiring specialist services.
Yet, across England every single region is failing to meet the government’s target for 95% of urgent and routine patients to be seen within one and four weeks respectively, after referral, the college said.
In 2020 the college warned of an all-time high for children and young people seeking treatment for eating disorders. Three years on, it has said the UK is now facing “an eating disorders crisis”.
Dr Agnes Ayton, chair of the Eating Disorders Faculty at the college, said: “It’s simply not acceptable that waiting times have increased when we are seeing record levels of referrals for children and young people. This is a warning that we gave three years ago and it beggars belief that nothing has changed.
“Admissions have been sharply rising since even before the pandemic; under-19s now account for 30% of hospital stays for eating disorders, with no sign of abating,” she added.