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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Daniel Keane

Young Londoners with eating disorders face longest wait for treatment in UK

Children and young people in London with an eating disorder face the longest wait for treatment following a routine referral of any region in England, new figures show.

Data analysed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that just over half (54.6 per cent) of children aged under 18 were receiving routine treatment for an eating disorder within the four-week target in the first quarter of 2022/23.

Experts have warned that long waits following a routine referral can lead to people becoming severely unwell before they start treatment. The NHS target for children and young people is for 95 per cent of urgent patients to be seen within one week and routine patients to be seen within four weeks.

Overall, the number of children and young people in London receiving urgent care is up by 60 per cent for quarter one since 2019 amid a surge in cases in the aftermath of the pandemic. The number of routine cases jumped by 40 per cent during the same time period.

Despite long waits for routine care, the capital had the shortest national waiting time for urgent referrals with 89 per cent of patients seen within a week.

Meanwhile, the RCP’s analysis found that funding in the capital for eating disorders is being cut by 2.6 per cent compared with 2019 levels.

The NHS Confederation, which represents all NHS providers and commissioners, has urged the Government to commit to an extra £12 million of specialist funding for eating disorders over the next three years.

Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park, told the Standard that the figures were “shocking” and that urgent investment would be needed to prevent long waits leading to fatalities.

“The postcode in which you live should have zero impact on the treatment you receive, and across London children and young people are tragically paying the price of this inequality.

“For too long, this Government has failed to invest properly in mental health services, and the sad consequences of this inaction are being made clear.

“Nobody should be dying from an eating disorder in 2023, and this money is essential to getting these crucial services back on track.”

A report released last month by the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded that a shortage of NHS mental health staff in England was the “major constraint” to improving and expanding services.

Figures released by NHS Digital last week showed that one in five (20.6 per cent) of mental health nursing vacancies in London were unfilled in December 2022.

The RCP has called for an increase in medical school places to 15,000 by 2028/29 to combat a workforce shortage in mental health services.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving mental health services. Almost £1 billion is being invested in community mental health care for adults, including eating disorders, by 2024 and we’re providing an additional £54 million per year in children and young people’s community eating disorder services to increase capacity across the country.”

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