Parents' plea over eating disorders care

Dan GrimmerThe parents of a teenager who died from anorexia made a heartfelt plea to health bosses to act urgently to prevent further deaths by tackling the hit and miss treatment of eating disorders.Dan Grimmer

The parents of a teenager who died from anorexia made a heartfelt plea to health bosses to act urgently to prevent further deaths by tackling the hit and miss treatment of eating disorders.

Charlotte Robinson from Worstead, near North Walsham, died aged 18 in 2007 after her weight plummeted to just five-and-a-half stone.

In less than six months the ambitious A-level student lost more than a third of her body weight as she struggled with a terror of food but there were major delays in her seeing a specialist, which could have contributed to her death.

Since then her parents Chris and Pauline Robinson have fought to get doctors and health chiefs to admit failings in the care and treatment of Charlotte.

Yesterday they received a compensation settlement from the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust - and immediately handed it to the Norwich-based eating disorder charity, Beat.

But the couple and Beat stressed there was still a massive amount to do to ensure eating disorders, which have the highest death rate of all mental illnesses, are recognised by health professionals and treatment is offered at the earliest opportunity.

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Mr Robinson said: 'We have had a protracted battle with the health service because there were a number of failings in my beautiful daughter's care.

'She was not seen by a professional until it was too late. There were systematic failings in her care and the health system needs to change.

'As parents we were not made fully aware of the risks to her and expected to deal with Charlotte's condition.'

Health bosses promised earlier this year to implement a new referral system so anyone with a suspected eating disorder is seen within two weeks by a specialist - the same as with diseases such as cancer - but it is not known whether this is being implemented across Norfolk.

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, said more needed to be done to ensure all doctors could recognise eating disorders and knew what to do, adding : 'Young people are especially vulnerable and if changes are not made we could be seeing more deaths like the tragic case of Charlotte.

'We cannot have a 'wait and see' approach by health professionals.

'We need a system in place so when a GP has any sign of an eating disorder they follow guidelines and the patient is immediately referred.

'In Charlotte's case it appears the GP knew she was ill and still did not act quickly enough. This failing cannot happen again.'

Charlotte died in intensive care at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in 2007 with her emaciated body too fragile to fight off pneumonia.

Greater Norfolk coroner William Armstrong ruled last November that 'inappropriate delays' in her treatment and assessment reduced the likelihood of recovery.

Even though Charlotte showed the symptoms of anorexia in April 2007 it was not until July that year that she was finally admitted to an eating disorder clinic.

A letter from her GP stating 'probable anorexia' was sent on April 30 and another on May 17 but were not acted upon until May 23 - and by the time of her admission Charlotte's condition was so severe she was unable to benefit from the treatment available at the eating disorder clinic and had to be admitted to the N&N where she was too weak to fight off pneumonia.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, who has supported the family through their quest for answers, said it was 'about the most shocking failure of care' he had ever seen.

It is estimated that hundreds of people in Norfolk seek help for an eating disorder every month but even that figure is not known for certain because the figures not collated.

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