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GPs defend handling of eating disorders

By Gareth Iacobucci

The RCGP has rushed to defend GPs after a new report claimed they were failing to help patients with eating disorders.

A study by the charity Beat reported that only 15% of patients felt their GP understood their eating disorders, or knew how to help them.

Most respondents felt their GP was not up-to-date on eating disorders and some believed they were not taken seriously.

But RCGP chair Professor Steve Field said most GPs were doing an excellent job, despite patients often needing multiple visits to open up to their problem.

He said: ‘It often takes a while for there to be understanding of the problem. It's not very often that the patient comes to the GP and says 'I've got an eating disorder'.

‘But doctors do know what they are doing and the signs to look out for and patients should be reassured of this.'

The report was based on a survey of 1500 people with eating disorders - the vast majority of which encountered ‘uninformed GPs and a widespread lack of understanding.'

It said that, rather than choice, patients recovery was ‘entirely down to chance – with the odds stacked against them.

Latest figures show an 80% increase in the number of girls aged 16 and under in England admitted to hospital with anorexia, from 256 in 1996/97 to 462 in 2006/07.

Beat Chief Executive Susan Ringwood said the ‘wait and see' attitude often adopted led to patients becoming extremely ill before receiving treatment – which could be prevented if help was given earlier by a GP.

She said: ‘Too many people are only getting the right treatment when they are so ill that hospital is the only solution.'

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