Eating Disorder hospital admissions and waiting times

by | 7 Jan 2022 | Eating Disorders | 0 comments

I was going to publish my first post of the year around the (almost obligatory) discussion about New Year’s resolutions.  However, less than a week into 2022 and we are already hearing unsettling Eating Disorder-related news and data – so I think I just have to get right to it and focus on that.

If you haven’t already seen, the number of hospital admissions for Eating Disorders continues to rapidly increase, reaching record highs year upon year.  The Guardian’s headline exclaims that the “NHS [is] unable to treat every child with [an] eating disorder as cases soar”.  Honestly, this isn’t in any way news to me as I have been inundated with enquiries since the first lockdown in the middle of last year.  In fact, Eating Disorder Services have not been able to serve ALL of those affected by Eating Disorders for as long as I can recall.  Stringent referral criteria mean many who are struggling are not accepted for treatment by NHS services, and if we were to count those help-seeking individuals, I’d hazard a guess that we’ve never had adequate services to meet the demand.  So, what this shocking news headline really means is that when counting only the small few who meet referral criteria for Eating Disorder Services, these services are already overwhelmed.  This is just another echo of how Eating Disorders are the pandemic within the pandemic.

This isn’t just about children and young people though; Eating Disorders affect adults too.  In fact, I was quite annoyed to see that nestled more than half way through The Guardian’s article was the statement, “hospital admissions are most common in adults aged 18 to 39, the figures show, with 8,298 in this age group from April to October 2021”.  I was annoyed because only the most interested people read that far through a news article – so only the most interested people will see that nugget of information.  Why was the headline not “Circa 45 adults admitted to hospital every day with an Eating Disorder”, and if you quickly do the maths you will finds that’s approximately DOUBLE the admissions for those age under 17.  I just cannot fathom why the focus, when it comes to Eating Disorders, is always on children and young people, with clear evidence of it heavily impacting adults (especially young adults) too?  This bias transcends the news headlines as well, with children and young people’s Eating Disorder services getting (slightly) better funding than adult services, AND children and young people’s services having waiting time standards when there are NONE for adult services.

I suppose I might be a little bit biased because the vast majority of clients that I work with are over the age of 18, and so every week I sit with the reality of those experiences.  I hear the struggle to access services, I hear the refusal of NHS care, I hear the years spent battling unnecessarily in silence.

My waiting list is longer than ever too.  Pre-pandemic, it was actually rare for someone to have to wait for more than a few weeks to start therapy with me.  Now my appointments are all filled, and so too is my waiting list.  It feels like a lot of pressure.  I am aware each time I open my client list, get a new enquiry, or even just when I need a day off, that people are struggling, people are waiting, people are in need.

There are not enough Counsellors who feel equipped to support these clients and the truth of the matter is the clients presenting (with Eating Disorders) for private therapy today (at least in my experience) are significantly more acute than those pre-pandemic.  This means that we (Counsellors/Therapists) need even greater levels of knowledge than before in order to appropriately give the support required.

That earlier-included statement about Eating Disorders being the pandemic within the pandemic feels more and more accurate every day that goes by.

I don’t have the capacity to fix this, but tomorrow I will awake again and sit at my laptop ready to support each client that I can, ready to train each professional that comes to my class, and working on my next offerings to contribute as much as I can.

If you are reading this and you (or someone you love) is on a waiting list, please know that we are trying to get to you.  In each appointment we are trying to offer the client we are sitting with something that they need, but we know, we are acutely aware, that YOU are waiting.


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Kel O'Neill

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