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Eating disorders among children on rise

PUBLISHED: 08:37 28 July 2009 | UPDATED: 11:06 06 July 2010

INCREASING numbers of children - including some as young as nine - are being referred to Suffolk specialists to treat eating disorders, it has been revealed.

INCREASING numbers of children - including some as young as nine - are being referred to Suffolk specialists to treat eating disorders, it has been revealed.

New figures reveal the number of under 18-year-olds sent to the county's eating disorder team (EDT) suffering from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa soared by 160pc in the first six months of this year compared to last.

It has left health services in east Suffolk “stretched to total capacity”.

The team of specialists are seeing more severe cases and children as young as nine years old being referred for treatment.

For 10 weeks at the end of last year, the team - part of the east Suffolk Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) - was forced to close its doors to new referrals because of the increasing pressures they faced.

A leading clinician has warned of the increasing pressure on local services as they currently struggle to cope with more referrals than the total number of new referrals in 2008.

From January to June 2008 15 new referrals were seen compared to 39 in the first six months of this year. In total the service saw 38 referrals in the whole of 2008.

Vicky Moss, lead clinician for the EDT, said the expanding work load was resulting in more patients being admitted to hospital, an eventuality the team ideally try to avoid.

“It is a very marked increase and I do not know why we have seen such a rise so suddenly,” she said. “Some of the intense work we used to do we have had to cut down on.

“We tend to see really poorly patients about two or three times a week, but we have just not had the chance which has meant more inpatients because we could not provide the same level of care.

“There have been a lot of admissions to hospital that I think we could have avoided. We are stretched to total capacity and a little bit beyond.”

She said in November last year the team were forced to close their doors to new referrals, sending young people through the generic body rather than offer their specialist service.

“We just could not take any more admissions, we were working so hard that had we admitted any more patients it could have been unsafe,” Dr Moss added.

“We are seeing more young people than ever, we are seeing more severe cases than ever and what is very worrying is we seem to be seeing lots more very young children.

“Recently we have seen one 11-year-old boy and girls as young as nine are being referred.”

She said: “If the trend continues, there will need to be an increase in resources to the eating disorder team to prevent closure to referrals again and in order for us to offer a safe and efficient service.”

Mark Halladay, chief executive for Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, said the “striking” increase in referrals is in part down to a better understanding of eating disorders and the need to seek treatment.

“Last year saw increased investment in eating disorder services that allowed us to expand our capacity in the west of the county,” he said.

“There is no doubt that this is going to continue to be an important issue. We will continue to look at how best to use our resources to address these needs.”

A spokesman for NHS Suffolk said they work to ensure everyone who needs specialist care has access to services, investing £420,000 annually on the service across the county.

Dr Moss said the sharp rise is difficult to explain but in general factors such as the rise in obesity is contributing to more young people suffering from eating disorders.

“I think the rise in obesity is having a direct impact,” she said. “People are terrified of obesity.

“Often we see young people who have been a bit overweight themselves and then they decide they have to lose weight and the effect just snow balls.

“Our whole way of life is 'obesogenic' so we should try to change our environment encouraging exercise and healthy food habits.

“Rather than look at thin and fat people this is an issue of good eating and bad eating, with obesity and eating disorders at one end of the scale.”

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