Source : Gary Ashe

People waiting longer to access specialist eating disorder care

The latest data shows an increase in people waiting more than eight weeks for assessments and treatment.

By Maria Delaney

WAITING TIMES FOR specialist eating disorder care have grown over the past three years, new figures have shown. 

Over 90% of people were assessed by the three specialist HSE community teams within eight weeks of referral in 2019 but this dropped to 73% in 2021. 

The same trend occurred in treatment waiting times with over 90% accessing treatment within eight weeks of assessment in 2019, with a drop to 72% last year. 

“Every percentage point is a person and every person who doesn’t receive early and timely treatment risks suffering for longer than they should have to,” a spokesperson for CARED Ireland – a voluntary group of parents and carers of people with eating disorders – told Noteworthy

They added that this drop was “not surprising given the surge in eating disorders as well as relapses because adequate services are just not there”. 

Is it not obvious to the health service that it is creating more work for itself by ignoring this one important but well known fact? Eating disorders don’t wait.

The figures were released by the National Clinical Programme for Eating Disorders (NCPED) as part of Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

When asked what the NCPED is doing to address this drop, a spokesperson for the HSE said that “a key aim for the HSE Model of Care for Eating Disorders Services is improving access to assessment and treatment” and the NCPED “remains committed to supporting the delivery of community specialist eating disorder teams”.

The HSE spokesperson referenced the “significant rise in eating disorder presentations” since the pandemic “in line with international data” and said that this rise was accounted for by “females and related to teeenagers and anorexia nervosa”. They continued:

In 2021 there was a 172% rise in diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. The overall 250% rise in referrals to community eating disorder teams since 2019 has surpassed predicted demand and planned capacity. This has impacted on waiting times to assessment and treatment despite increased capacity.

“In response to the 120% rise in referrals from 2020 to 2021, twice as many people with eating disorders have accessed assessments and 71% more have started treatment in the same year.”

They also said that “emergency referrals continue to be prioritised” and those on the active waiting lists can access supports “including the HSE self-care App for eating disorders and Bodywhys support services”. 

The latest data also showed that there were twice as many inpatient admissions last year by these specialist teams compared to 2020. 

‘Worryingly little progressing’

This data only covers people seen by the three specialist community teams currently in place. Our SILENT TREATMENT investigation – published on Sunday – reported that the HSE mental health systems do not capture data by clinical diagnosis so waiting list and other data is not available for the majority of eating disorder patients.  

The CARED Ireland spokesperson said that “colourful graphics showing recovery rates are meaningless when they exclude the vast majority and focus only on those few lucky enough to access services through the three existing centres”. 

Noteworthy also reported that four years on from the launch of the NCPED, just three of the 16 specialist community hubs are in place, with only 55% of the staff for three further teams promised for 2021 recruited to date.

The findings of our investigation were raised in the Dáil today by Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns who said that “despite continued assurance” from both the Mental Health and Health Ministers “there is worryingly little progressing”. 

In response Minister Butler referenced the latest statistics with over 500 people referred to the specialist teams in 2021. “When the clinical programme was put in place in 2018, they assumed at that time, judging by the correspondence and data that they had, there would be approximately 60 people referred into eating disorder teams.”

She added that “it is slow but progress is being made and to have 44 new clinical people into the eating disorder teams all over the country is very welcome”.

Updated on 04 March to include HSE response 

This article was supported by reader contributions to Noteworthy, The Journal’s community-led investigative platform. If you like this and our other work, consider contributing here

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