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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Anita Beaumont

'Nothing like it in NSW': $13m eating disorder treatment centre bound for Hunter

Welcome news: Meg, who has had an eating disorder for 26 years, says a new state-run ED clinic bound for Newcastle will fill a much needed gap in care. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

NEWCASTLE will soon be home to a new $13 million state-wide residential eating disorders treatment centre, the first publicly-funded service of its kind in NSW.

Bronnie Taylor, the NSW Minister for Mental Health and Regional Health, has told the Newcastle Herald the 12-bed centre will be built on Dudley Road at Charlestown, and will provide specialist support to people aged 16 and over with severe eating disorders.

Mrs Taylor said the centre would provide "wrap-around care in a home-like environment" to people who required more support than a day program, but did not require hospitalisation.

"A multi-disciplinary team of specialists will address all aspects of recovery - the physical, psychological and lifestyle - giving people the best chance of living a full, rich and healthy life," she said. "The centre will also have capacity to provide whole-of-family therapy, which is vital to the ongoing treatment and recovery of those experiencing an eating disorder."

Every quarter in NSW, more than 1,600 people living with an eating disorder (ED) seek care from a hospital, mental health service or emergency department.

Maitland resident, Meg (last name withheld) said this new treatment centre would help address the "huge" gap between the day programs and hospitalisation.

Meg, who has lived with an ED since she was 14, believes having early access to experienced, specialised clinicians earlier would have made a significant difference to the length of her recovery.

"I think that it is 100 per cent needed. And there is nothing like it in NSW," she said. "I can't even explain how beneficial this will be, especially for people at the beginning of showing signs and symptoms of eating disorders. It is really important to have a safe place to be able to really allow yourself to explore the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are behind your eating disorder - because it's not just about eating behaviours. Being in a safe place to learn other coping strategies is a huge benefit for anyone with any kind of eating disorder."

Beneficial: Meg, who has lived with an eating disorder for 26 years, said a new $13 million state-wide residential eating disorder treatment centre planned for Newcastle is very much needed to fill the current gaps in care. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Now 40, Meg said it was difficult to find "eating disorder-informed clinicians" - who understood the specific intricacies of eating disorders and how they present - in the Hunter.

"The standard of care isn't as high as the metropolitan areas, as there's really only the three levels of care here," she said. "There's the community care - where you have your own clinicians in the community; a day program - which is based on education and meal support. And the only place to go after that, really, is if you are so acutely ill that you need re-feeding, and you end up in the hospital. But there is no real psychological support there with that, only medical management. Having something like this to fill that gap, with 24-hour specialist care, would be phenomenal."

Meg said many people living with EDs were "falling through the cracks" in the Hunter and that there had been an increase in eating disorder prevalence during the pandemic.

"Even though I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing, incredibly skilled GPs, dietitians, and psychologists in the Hunter, even with the eating disorder plans through Medicare - where you can access between 20 and 40 psychological sessions - you are still out of pocket over $100 a week unless you meet the Medicare threshold," she said. "That's just not affordable to do, weekly, for so many people. And privately, everyone has long waiting lists. I don't really know of anyone who can accept referrals immediately or within a week or two - which is often what is needed, because people don't go to the GP until they are fairly significantly unwell and need that immediate support."

There were private eating disorder treatment facilities in the state but they tended to be expensive. At times she had also received care at the public Centre For Psychotherapy in Newcastle - but she said that was limited to people over 18, you had to be medically stable, and it only had the capacity to accept a small number of people with eating disorders.

The site at Charlestown, owned by Hunter New England Local Health District, was chosen for its residential location and proximity to retail services and public transport. Funded through the Commonwealth's Community Health and Hospitals Program, the centre will accept referrals from Local Health Districts across NSW.

Construction will begin later this year and is set to be completed by mid-2023.

The Butterfly Foundation: 1800 33 4673

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