Children with eating disorders face a ‘postcode lottery’ for treatment

Mental health charities have warned that some children with eating disorders are being forced to wait too long for treatment (picture posed by model). Photo: PA Archive/PA Images/Chris Radburn
Mental health charities have warned that some children with eating disorders are being forced to wait too long for treatment (picture posed by model). Photo: PA Archive/PA Images/Chris Radburn

Leading mental health charities have warned that almost a third of children with eating disorders seen by the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust are waiting too long to begin their treatment.

Charities like Beat and YoungMinds say a ‘postcode lottery’ is leaving many youngsters struggling to access the care they need, with ‘patchy’ services leading to ‘significant local and regional variation’ in waiting times.

NHS guidance says that children should begin treatment within four weeks of referral, or within one week for urgent cases.

The latest figures from NHS England, however, show only 58 per cent of children and under-19s referred to the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust began their treatment within those windows in the 12 months to June, putting its performance well below the national average.

In the case of urgent referrals, 64 per cent of patients waited a week or longer to begin their treatment, and 31% of routine case patients waited four or more weeks.

Overall, referrals are on the up in England, increasing from 5,725 between July 2016 and June 2017 to 7,054 the following year.

In the case of the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, however, cases fell from 46 to 43 over the same period.

Across England, 81 per cent of patients began their treatment within the target window over the same 12 month period, and in some parts of the country the number reached almost 100 per cent.

More than a quarter of providers that returned data for the past two years performed worse against their targets this year than they did the previous year.

This is despite Government efforts to drive down waiting times, with NHS trusts and other healthcare providers given a deadline of 2020 to ensure they are meeting their targets in at least 95 per cent of cases.

Mental health charity YoungMinds has described this target as ‘ambitious and unlikely to be achieved’.

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at eating disorder charity Beat, said: “It is difficult to be confident that the 2020 target will be met given that so many trusts appear to be falling behind.

“We are concerned there is so much variation - early treatment is crucial, and some trusts are playing catchup.

“The extra money the Government put forward hasn’t been ring-fenced and our analysis shows that not all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are spending it on eating disorder services.

“We would urge all CCGs to look at the findings and to ensure that there is proper investment in their area and we would urge the Government to reflect on these results and ensure money is being spent locally on the right things.”

Marc Bush, Director of Policy at YoungMinds, said: “It is encouraging to see an increase in the number of young people receiving treatment across the UK.

“Given an anticipated increase in the amount of young people needing treatment for eating disorders, it is vital that the Government commits to a new funding settlement for children’s mental health services which will ensure that it can properly meet the scale of the need.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: “More young people are getting the treatment they need for eating disorders, and there has been a significant improvement in treatment times for NHS care.

“An extra £30 million is going into children’s eating disorder services every year, with 70 new and improved treatment centres set up in 2017, covering the whole of the country, to ensure more young people get the right care, at the time, closer to home.”