Eating Disorders Week in 2021 (1 – 7 March) sadly marks the impact of a global pandemic – increased incidence of eating disorders; longer waiting lists for treatment; but possibly an increase in awareness. Ellern Mede is now COVID-free and this thankfully puts us in a better place to be able to have our bed capacity under less pressure.

No NHS or Private eating disorder team will have failed to notice the sharp increase in demand for their services at the very time that they are least able to fill that demand. We have to hope that one positive result from this will be recognition that there is a life-threatening shortage of specialist ED services at every level from GP, through community and in inpatient settings.

Data released by NHS Digital on Thursday 11 February, reported by The Guardian, shows waiting times for young people and children are up. The number of young  people waiting for routine treatment is up 128% compared with this time in 2020. Here are some of these worrying statistics applying to children:

  • 128% up – routine treatment wait times
  • 86% up – urgent treatments
  • 41% up – routine treatments
  • 28% – the number of child referrals starting treatment within a week of referral (lowest number in three years)

COVID-19 caused all services to have to prioritise bed availability for people with the disease, creating isolation space – meaning all bed availability reduced. This was also the case for Ellern Mede as we had to create isolation space within wards. This reduced our capacity by about 20%.

Dr Agnes Ayton, the chair of the Eating Disorder Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has spoken publicly to say conditions such as anorexia thrive in the isolation of lockdown. She described the increase in need for treatment as a ‘tsunami’ that would not subside as the pandemic threat reduces. She also said that in her own experience in Oxford, the proportion of urgent referrals for children had shot up from 20% to 80% of all referrals.

At Ellern Mede, we saw a big increase in calls from people who wanted to choose to pay privately for inpatient services rather than remain on NHS waiting lists, but unfortunately, we were not able to help due to having no available beds. Ellern Mede expanded its inpatient bed numbers from 28 in 2017 to 55 in 2019 and we intend to keep this expansion going. We want to help as many young people with eating disorders as we can and we want to work with CCGs and NHS commissioners to do this.

Our aim is that by March 2022 and Eating Disorder Awareness Week that year, that we will happily be able to report that our total bed numbers reach over 80 spanning a wider area of the UK.

We join with the many other promoters of eating disorders awareness to say let’s not give an eating disorder a place to hide – talking about it, recognising the signs, is the start of the recovery journey. We would encourage you to use the BEAT Charity’s helplines to take that first step: 0808 801 0677

Watch BEAT’s latest eating disorders awareness week video here.

In the UK, the charity Mind is available on 0300 123 3393 and Childline on 0800 1111.