An award-winning eating disorder unit for vulnerable adults in the North East is being axed by health chiefs.
A controversial decision has been made to close the Richardson Eating Disorder Service based at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary in the autumn.
The move has been announced after The Journal learned that one vulnerable patient unable to find treatment in the North East was instead offered a service in either Norwich or Glasgow.
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust is working with NHS England to open a new eating disorder intensive day service at Benfield House, Walkergate Park, Newcastle.
The facility will provide day treatment and outpatient services, but there will be no commissioned inpatient beds, with the nearest adult inpatient facility based almost 40 miles away in Darlington.
For months, the North East Eating Disorder Action Group (NEEDAG) has urged for health chiefs to provide inpatient care in Tyneside as there area no commissioned beds at the Richardson Unit, despite there being 10 beds available.
The campaigners have reacted with anger at the impending closure of the service and what it means for patients in the North East.
A spokesperson for NEEDAG said: “We are bitterly disappointed at the decision to close the Richardson Eating Disorder Service at the RVI. This excellent service has, since 1997, been meeting the many and varied needs of eating disorder sufferers including outpatients, day patients and the most severely ill who require inpatient treatment, offering seamless step up, step down support as required.
“This will be lost at a time when the need for inpatient treatment is increasing, particularly here in the North East, leaving only 15 inpatient beds to cover a region stretching from the Scottish borders down to North Yorkshire and across to Cumbria.
“This is woefully inadequate as we estimate that at any one time at least 24 inpatient beds are needed to meet the needs of local sufferers and, indeed, since December, six young and very ill patients have been sent to units in Sheffield and Leeds because Darlington was full.
“This is cruel, unnecessary and against National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines which state that anorexia nervosa sufferers should be treated as close to home as possible and we will continue our fight to bring commissioned inpatient beds to Newcastle.”
Staff working at the Richardson Unit are undergoing a consultation process over the changes, although Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust hopes to transfer all employees to the new service.
The unit recently won the prestigious Clinical Team of the Year national award by leading eating disorder charity, BEAT, for its work in helping patients recover from the life-threatening illness.
Prof Eilish Gilvarry, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust clinical director of specialities, insists that the new service will meet the needs of those with serious eating disorders.
She said: “We are pleased to have reached agreement with NHS England to provide this service for people with eating disorders, which will be based in Newcastle. We feel this development will have many benefits for patients and their families.”
The Richardson Unit provided adult inpatient care until 2010, when the contract was then awarded to Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.
NHS England’s specialist commissioners decided that inpatient treatment should be provided at regional centres of excellence.
Since 2011, approximately £18m has been invested in the North East to support the development of regional specialist inpatient units and home treatment services. This includes 15 inpatient hospital adult beds based in Darlington and 12 young people’s inpatient beds in Middlesbrough.
A spokesperson from NHS England’s Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear area team said: “Eating disorders can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, and we are committed to providing the highest possible standards of specialised care.
“Since 2011, around £18m has been spent to support the development of eating disorder services in the North East. This investment ensures patients can receive the best possible treatment appropriate to their needs, whether this is in a specialised unit, through outpatient care or at home.
“Inpatient beds for the region have been commissioned by the area team and provided by Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust since 2011, as part of a move towards regional centres of excellence.”
A mother whose daughter is seriously ill with anorexia says she fears the closure of the Richardson Unit will have a devastating impact on patients and their families.
The 54-year-old, who has asked not to be named, is pleading with health bosses to allow her daughter to receive inpatient eating disorder care at the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s unit.
The woman’s 20-year-old daughter’s weight has plummeted dangerously low to that of a child and she needs specialist inpatient treatment.
As Darlington’s commissioned beds are full the Newcastle University student has been offered a bed in Norwich or Glasgow, but will not go as she does not want to be too far away from family and friends. The young woman is currently receiving day care at the Richardson Unit.
Her mother, of Gateshead, said: “My daughter’s weight is dangerously low as her body mass index is only 13. It is vital for her recovery process that she is near friends and family and is given an inpatient bed in Tyneside.
“It is disastrous for all eating disorder patients in the region that the Richardson Eating Disorder Service will be closed. It is an absolute sin and it does not make any sense whatsoever, the moving of the service will cause huge upheaval.
“There needs to be an eating disorder inpatient service in Newcastle. We have not lightly dismissed the idea of my daughter going elsewhere in the country for treatment, it is something we have thought very carefully about.
“But we believe that the best thing for my daughter is to be treated at the Richardson Unit as she knows the staff and feels safe and comfortable, with her family and friends also nearby to help her recover.”