Freddie Flintoff discusses his battle with an eating disorder
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The NHS dealt with a record 29,000 admissions in England involving a primary or secondary diagnosis of an eating disorder in 2021-22, up by almost a quarter from 23,500 the previous year.
The total included a record 2,387 men who received care, a 30 per cent rise.
Experts said it was “alarming” to see so many sufferers reach the point where inpatient treatment was necessary.
Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at charity Beat, said: “Hospital treatment is typically reserved for people who are most unwell, and so this data suggests that people are not getting quality treatment in their local area quickly enough.
“It’s also concerning to hear that more men and boys are being admitted to hospital for an eating disorder.
“There is a misconception that eating disorders only impact women and girls, which can prevent men and boys from reaching out for support, and increase feelings of guilt and shame.”
A report by accountants Ernst and Young last year estimated that eating disorders cost the UK economy £9.4 billion annually.
The data, published by NHS Digital, shows the number of admissions has more than trebled in the last decade.
Some 8,835 patients with a primary or secondary diagnosis of an eating disorder received inpatient treatment in 2012-13.
Admissions have been climbing steadily in recent years – there were 16,023 in 2017-18, 18633 in 2018-19, and 21,048 in 2019-20.
Mr Quinn said the pandemic had a huge impact on people affected by eating disorders, many of whom felt stressed and isolated.
He added: “At Beat we provided triple the number of support sessions from April 2021 to March 2022 in comparison to before the pandemic.
“However, hospital admissions and referrals for eating disorders were increasing before the pandemic began and it’s important to remember that there are often multiple factors that contribute to an eating disorder developing.
“For example, we know that genetics can have an impact, as well as environmental factors like grief or abuse, and low self-esteem or negative body image.
“The Government must provide enough funding to meet the increased demand for eating disorder treatment and ensure that all funding pledged for eating disorder services reaches the frontline.”
Separate figures have shown a worrying rise in admissions among children and young adults.
Olly Parker, head of external affairs at YoungMinds, said Covid, pressure to catch up on missed education and the cost of living crisis had all impacted young people’s mental health.
“We know from speaking to young people and our own research that the last year has been one of the most difficult for young people,” he said.
“Sadly, the numbers come as no surprise following a string of similar statistics in recent months underlining the emergency in young people’s mental health.”
Mr Parker warned that without Government support, professionals in the field “can only offer a sticking plaster”.
He said: “We are calling for more resources for the NHS, so young people, including those with eating disorders, can access help quickly.
“Last year, the Government announced a 10-year plan for mental health. We expect the Prime Minister to re-commit to this plan, for it to lay out how access to early treatment will be improved and for it to have young people at its heart.”
To access support from Beat, call 0808 801 0677 or click here.
‘BMI rules meant I had to wait for treatment’
Katie Scott was admitted to hospital aged 17 after struggling with an eating disorder for three years.
As a teenager she felt increasingly self-conscious about her body and began restricting her food intake, over-exercising and obsessing about diets.
Now 24, Katie is in recovery. But she said it took too long for her to get treatment due to body mass index (BMI) benchmarks that restricted access.
She said: “For a long while I couldn’t access anything beyond basic counselling because my BMI didn’t indicate that I had anorexia.
“Eventually I hit this extremely low weight that meant I qualified for inpatient support, but by then I was three years into my eating disorder and it was so much worse than it would have been if there was early intervention.”
Katie stayed in hospital for just over a year receiving treatment such as dietetic support and group therapies. She had a food plan and was supervised during and after each meal.
Katie, who lives in Berkshire and works in product development in London, said the rise in hospital admissions was worrying but also could mean more people are accessing support.
She added: “Waiting lists have always been extremely long and if more people are being admitted, it suggests there might be more spaces freeing up.”
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