NHS England: waiting times for children and young people with eating disorders

Yesterday, NHS England published its quarterly data on the waiting times for children and young people with eating disorders. The numbers are saddening and reflective of how urgent the need is for early intervention and access to specialist care.

‘The findings show that of the 230 children and young people currently on the waiting list for urgent treatment, 44 per cent have been waiting for more than 12 weeks.’

The new NHS data reflects the first quarter of 2022 – 2023.

As seen in the first table* below, there has been a stark increase in individuals waiting to start treatment from the time of their referral. Since 2016/2017 figures, we’ve seen an almost 400% increase in numbers.

When we look at the number of individuals waiting to start their treatment since referral in the second table, the increase in the number of incomplete pathways is a huge cause for concern and demonstrates the number of individuals waiting 12 plus weeks to start their treatment.

*CYP ED Waiting Times Timeseries – Q1 2022-23 (XLS 23 KB)

‘Almost 10,000 children and young people started treatment between April and December with record demand for services – an increase of a quarter compared to the same period last year and up by almost two thirds since before the pandemic.’ NHS England, 2022

The pandemic heightened the acuity of eating disorders, as many found a sense of safety and predictability in their eating disorder behaviours in an otherwise uncertain world. Without the subtle interventions of schooling and socialising, individuals found themselves spiralling and struggling to find an outlet for their emotional distress.

We have seen a collective the stark rise in eating disorders and referrals, as referenced by Dr Agnes Ayton, Chair of the Eating Disorders Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

“Eating disorder services have been struggling since the early stages of the pandemic to meet rising demand and the pandemic backlog has made it impossible to meet waiting times targets.” 

Here at Orri, we saw a sharp increase in enquiries from individuals and loved ones, and were quick to launch our online treatment programme to respond to the need for virtual, intensive support. Supporting people within their home environments gave them the opportunity to heal their home environments, whilst developing a unique autonomy in their recovery journeys.

With reference to the recent data, Kerrie Jones, Orri’s CEO & Founder commented:

“The NHS England data provides a sobering outlook on the provision of eating disorder treatment for children and young people in England. When living with an eating disorder, every single day counts. Waiting 12 weeks is a despairing task for young people – and not to mention their loved ones who often feel helpless in the face of such struggle.

Early intervention and access to specialist services is crucial for mitigating risk and crises for individuals whose lives have already been turned upside down during the pandemic. Early intervention involves improving access to care in the community at an earlier point in the journey.

We join Dr Agnes Ayton in calling for government and NHS leaders to ensure specialist services have the funding and support they need to tackle their waiting lists and ensure more children and young people can recover.”

The importance of early intervention

Early intervention means getting help and support as soon as possible, when you need it. The sooner you get help, the quicker you are likely to recover and without relapse. The reality of people not accessing proper treatment for their eating disorder can be fatal – Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorderand the nuanced presentation of eating disorders can mean they go undetected for weeks

We created Orri to offer both an early intervention option for individuals first seeking support, as well as an alternative to hospitalisation for those that need the physical observation and medical oversight of our psychiatric team. Here, we provide a service that treats all aspects of the eating disorder, with programmes led by a team of experts who hold onto compassion, kindness and respect above all us.

Orri’s responsibility

As an CQC-regulated eating disorder service and an impact-led business, we have a responsibility to provide a standard of care to our clients, families and eating disorder community, so more people can thrive in their recovery.

Our social impact initiative is focused on extending the expertise of our team beyond the Zoom calls and walls of our London clinic to improve early intervention and reach those who – for whatever reason – may not be able to access Orri or specialist eating disorder treatment.

Seema Chaudry and Sam Merrick, members of Orri’s Business Development team, have conversations with NHS partners across the UK.

“The saddeningstatistics regarding the prevalence of young people with serious eating disorders in need of urgent, specialist intervention, underlines the need to address the crisis collectively. By working together across the industry to ensure that all eating disorder services are supported, we can impact real change, intervene earlier and bring waiting lists down.  

Orri provides an intensive day-care model that can be integrated into existing care pathways, we have recently been working closely with several NHS trusts to reduce pressure on Tier 3 and Tier 4 services, extending NHS capacity through our service, both pre-hospitalisation, into the waiting-lists and also offering treatment on the other side, bringing forward hospital discharges, freeing up beds, while ensuring sustainable recovery. 

The current situation is unacceptable. At Orri we are always looking for new ways to collaborate with providers, experts and services across the industry to combat this present crisis and provide new hope for sustainable recovery. Please get in touch if you are interested in working together, forming collaborative problem-solutions focused relationships or accessing our support in any way.” Sam Merrick

We know that to improve early intervention and access to treatment, we need to improve education around eating disorders. Since we opened in 2018, we’ve met with and trained many university wellbeing teams and GPs in eating disorders, highlighting their risk and sharing practical and helpful insights into how to have difficult conversations and engage people who may be very nervous about receiving support.

Accessing eating disorder treatment improves and saves lives

At Orri, we want to empower people to feel confident to ask the right questions and have conversations around eating disorders, as well as equip people with the skills and knowledge they need to support a loved one or signpost for specialist help.

That is why we advocate for more accessible support. To find out more about Orri’s specialist eating disorder programmes, click here. Alternatively, you can reach out to our Admissions team and complete one of the forms below.

For your diaries…

We are speaking with Dr Agnes Ayton and Lorna Collins on 18th August, over on our Instagram. Make sure to tune in and hear all about their pivotal work in eating disorders, treatment and recovery!

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