Please note: All details were accurate at the time that this feature was written (April 2015). Some parts of the feature may be outdated.
As the number of UK students battling eating disorders rises, the nation looks to Nottingham as their Eating Disorder Student Service is re-commissioned following a “successful” two-year trial period.
The pilot, run by local mental health trust professionals, came to an end on March 31st.
It was found to have “improved outcomes”, and Zenn Athar of ‘Keep our NHS Public Nottingham’ campaigned for the Service to continue.
But it is not just university students who need help.
A recent report released by eating disorder charity B-eat revealed that “most eating disorders develop in adolescence with those under 20 making up almost half (49%) of all those receiving inpatient treatment for an eating disorder in England.”
While these statistics show that this initiative needs to be rolled out across the UK, it is Wales’ services for those battling the illness which must first be greatly improved.
Of the 3.1 million people living in Wales, around 5% have an eating disorder, and around 1000 new diagnosis are recorded each year.
Although there are community-based services available, and treatment includes dietetic and psychological intervention, there are currently no specialist facilities which provide inpatient care in Wales.
Those referred by the NHS have to travel to facilities like Cotswold House in Wiltshire in order to get the help they so desperately need.
However, B-eat say “treatment is patchy at best, inadequate at worst and that unacceptable variability nationally is putting lives at risk every day.”
Keira Marlow, a campaigner from Brecon, who started a petition for the NHS to allocate more money to treatment for the illness said:
“I wanted to start the petition because of the treatment I received in England as, without it, I wouldn’t have recovered, but I think there should be something available in Wales instead of being put on a waiting list for a limited amount of beds in England… [where] your family can’t visit often.”
It is the demand for, and lack of this vital care which causes delays, forcing countless families to pay for private treatment, costing over £8000 for a 14-day inpatient stay at a facility like the Cardinal Clinic in Windsor.
In comparison, treatment of one patient costs the NHS an average of £7194 per year.
Yet, there are still so many people who suffer in silence as almost half of those with an eating disorder wait over a year after recognising symptoms before asking for help, while many others don’t seek help at all.
Student Laurie-Ann Kemlo’s eating disorder took hold at the age of ten, taking over her life for six years.
Having been told that she didn’t have the right figure to be a ballet dancer professionally, Laurie-Ann felt it was “game over”.
She said: “I never went to my GP because I felt embarrassed… I have a few counselling sessions in school but I found her inexperienced and not really understanding of my situation… I had major health problems and was back and fore to the doctors… the most they did was give me tests for being anaemic so I was very much alone.”
Patients are in dire need of help, but their families and friends also suffer.
Annually, carers spend an average of £220 on travel to and from treatment sessions, and the time they take off work costs the economy around £5.9 million per 1000 carers.
As financial costs to families and the economy rack up, so do the emotional and psychological costs.
Another source, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he often found it difficult to support his girlfriend, who lived in Wales, during her struggle:
“It was quite morally difficult… was I supposed to support her by trying to get her to eat, or was I supposed to let her get on with it and avoid it?”
The lack of understanding and the stigma surrounding eating disorders is also a problem.
‘B-eat’s Media Guidelines’ was published in 2010 in order to educate journalists and broadcasters.
An information sheet published on their website states: “Beat is particularly concerned about the use of emaciated bodies which are routinely used to portray eating disorders.
“These images do not show eating disorders in their true light… they’re serious mental illnesses and [these images] can also be harmful to those struggling to overcome anorexia in particular.”
The Welsh Government have set aside £250,000 to improve treatment; however, this money will only benefit South Wales, leaving many continuing to struggle to get help and support.
Keira Marlow thinks this is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done: “I think the £250,000 is a good start but it will only benefit a small amount of sufferers… especially as more and more people are being diagnosed… it will put even more pressure on the already limited services.”
With the General Election coming up, sufferers and professionals alike can only hope that the new governments’ plans will cater for the provision that so desperately needs to be reviewed.