Pandemic could leave ‘a hidden epidemic’ of eating disorders

eating disorders at work

The country could be facing a ‘hidden epidemic’ of eating disorders, as referrals to hospital and emergency admissions have increased by a fifth since the start of the pandemic in some parts of England, while waiting times have doubled, according to research published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The study analysed data from the HOPE Provider Collaborative, which includes Oxford Health, Berkshire Healthcare, and Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS foundation trusts and the Priory Group’s inpatient provision in Bristol.

This found that the average number of referrals increased by 20% from March 2020 to November 2020 when compared with data from July 2018 to February 2020. Waiting times for potentially life-saving treatment had more than doubled from 33 days to 67 days.

The average distance from home to treatment had also increased from 42 miles to 62 miles during the pandemic, with seven patients sent to Glasgow as no beds were available in England.

Dr Agnes Ayton, lead author and chairwoman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ eating disorders faculty, said: “Eating disorder services are at risk of being overrun by the surging numbers of people needing help because of Covid-19.

“Support networks have been dismantled and the reduced access to community services means many people are suffering in silence, unable to get the help they desperately need.

“The government must urgently address the hidden epidemic of eating disorders sweeping across the country by improving access to treatment and increasing funding for both community and inpatient services,” she added.

Recent figures from NHS England that highlighted how eating disorders were a growing problem even before the pandemic, with as many as one in five women and one in eight men screened positive for a possible eating disorder in 2019.

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