Yahoo UK exclusive: Twenty young people referred to NHS with eating disorder every day

(Originally published on Yahoo News UK)

Twenty young people are referred to the NHS with an eating disorder every day, shocking new figures have revealed.

According to data released by NHS Digital Data, the number of under-19s referred by the NHS for eating disorders has more than doubled in the past year – from 1,971 new referrals between March and May this year, up from 909 new referrals between April and June 2016.

The new figures pile pressure on Theresa May to address the growing mental health crisis amid claims the government is “short-changing” young people.

In July last year, the NHS announced a five-year overhaul of mental health services, after national statistics revealed nearly one in 10 children suffer with mental illness.

The most recent figures from the last three months show a rise of nearly 20 per cent.

The provisional data shows that 253,753 under-19s were in contact with mental health services at the end of May this year, up from 230,585 a year ago.

In January 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May wrote a blog where she highlighted that a large number of mental illnesses begin during childhood.

The Government pledged to ‘transform’ mental health services for children and young adults by giving training to schoolteachers.

It claimed that, by 2020, every school in the UK will be offered Mental Health First Aid training, which should encourage faster help and referrals.

But after pledging to scrap the ‘unfit for purpose’ 1983 Mental Health Act and cutting funds in five regions of England during the May general election, it is unclear whether the plan will succeed.

And critics say the latest figures highlight that the government is falling short on its promise to young people.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman (and former Health minister) Norman Lamb, told Yahoo News UK: “Liberal Democrats secured an extra £150m for eating disorders when we were in government, as well as securing £1.25bn extra investment in children’s mental health in 2015. But there is growing evidence that the government has fallen short on making good on its promise and in many parts of the country the money is being diverted into other parts of the NHS.

“Vulnerable children and teenagers are being short-changed of the money needed to improve mental health services. ”Sadly, mental health is often the first area which loses out when budgets are tight. We need to prove we are serious about mental health. It is high time the Government ring-fenced mental health spending for children to ensure money is spent where it can make a major difference.”
Children’s charities have said they hope the new figures mean families and doctors and identifying and treating young people at an earlier point.

Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, said: “We hope that the increasing number signals that more sufferers and their families are able to spot the signs of an eating disorder and to come forward for treatment.

“The fact that we are seeing more people seeking help for eating disorders early is positive. Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible but the sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and sustained recovery.”

But Beat also warned that three out of 10 sufferers do not receive a referral from their GP for treatment.

Their research found only 34 per cent of sufferers felt their GP knew how to help them and almost one in six switched doctors as a result.

NHS waiting times vary hugely between departments, but the most recent data conducted by Unify2 has shown an improvement for children and young adults seeking mental illness support.
The percentage of urgent cases seen within a week rose from 64.9 per cent to 73.3 per cent during January 2016 – 2017.

However, those who aren’t considered ‘urgent’ waited an average of four weeks, with only 78.7 per cent of sufferers starting treatment during this period.

Around one in 250 women and one in 2,000 men in the UK will experience Anorexia Nervosa at some point, and an estimated 750,000 people will suffer some form of eating disorder.

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