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Long NHS delays can be ‘devastating’ for patients with eating disorders | Society

People with an eating disorder are waiting as long as five years to start treatment on the NHS, putting their recovery in peril, according to a report.

Beat, a charity which helps people suffering from anorexia and bulimia, warns that delays to access vital care can have a “devastating” impact on those with eating disorders.

It stresses that while the five-year wait was a one-off, too many patients are waiting too long to see a specialist, despite recent efforts by the NHS to provide more services and cut waiting times.

Patients wait on average six months after first visiting their GP about their condition before they start treatment, it said. Some have been made to wait as long as that – 26 weeks – just to have the appointment at which they are assessed, after being referred for help by their GP.

And it can then take as much as 13 weeks after the assessment appointment before they see a psychiatrist who specialises in treating eating disorders, Beat said.

Its findings are based on the experiences of 1,478 patients who responded to a survey the charity undertook.

“The impact of having to wait a long time before receiving treatment can be devastating for eating disorders sufferers and their families,” said Andrew Radford, Beat’s chief executive.

“Eating disorders are serious, complex mental illnesses and early intervention is key to recovery. All evidence tells us the sooner someone with an eating disorder gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and sustained recovery,” he added.

Around 725,000 people in the UK are estimated to have an eating disorder, and the conditions cost the NHS about £4.6bn a year to treat. Almost 90% of sufferers are young girls or women.

It takes on average three and a half years between symptoms emerging and the sufferer starting treatment, with the gap among adults seeking help double that found in children. People typically take over 18 months to realise they have a problem and…

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