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NHS England missing targets for 'urgent' eating disorder referrals

Urgently ill young people with eating disorders are being forced to wait too long to begin treatment in England, official figures show.

Over a third of children and young people with ‘urgent’ eating disorders had to wait longer than the recommended target in 2016/17, data has shown.

A first-time publication by NHS England revealed some 10% of patients had to wait longer than four weeks to start urgent treatment.

And more than a third (35%) waited longer than the ideal one week for urgent treatment, according to the figures.

Some young people were forced to wait more than 12 weeks for their first urgent treatment appointment, with this taking place in 13 cases in 2016/17.

For non-urgent routine cases, one in four had to wait longer than the target four weeks for treatment, while 5% were forced to wait three months or longer.

NHS England's official waiting time standard for eating disorders is due to come into effect by 2020.

It says there should be no more than one week between referral and start of treatment for ‘urgent’ cases and four weeks for ‘routine’ cases.

Eating disorder charity Beat, which analysed the figures, warned that too many young people with eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, were left with unacceptable waits for treatment.

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at Beat, said: ‘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. More work must be done at a national and local level to ensure these figures improve year on year.’

The GPC’s prescribing policy lead Dr Andrew Green told Pulse: ‘Child and adolescent mental health services all over the country are under great pressure due to increased referrals.

'Personally I’m quite surprised that these figures are as good as this – I know that waiting times for self-harming, for example, are longer than those quoted. In general, long waiting times [for eating disorders] reflect the type of society that we are living in.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: 'The data show a substantial proportion of children and young people are receiving the care they need swiftly. It also highlights the scale of change under way by a major programme of work to improve services.

‘Alongside the new waiting time standard, 67 dedicated community eating disorders services are being developed and recruitment to get the teams up to full capacity is well under way. Our goal is to ensure that increasing numbers of children and young people will receive swift, effective eating disorder treatment.’

In December last year, NICE draft recommendations urged GPs to refer anyone with a suspected eating disorder to specialist services ‘without delay’ and not wait to see if symptoms progress.

But RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard pointed to ‘the elephant in the room’ – a ‘severe lack of appropriate services in the community for GPs to refer patients to’.

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