Vulnerable eating disorder patients being 'let down' by NHS

The North East Eating Disorder Action Group has revealed some eating disorder patients have had to travel many miles for treatment

The Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle
The Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle

A campaign group in the North East says vulnerable eating disorder patients are being let down by the NHS.

Seriously ill adults cannot be admitted for a stay at the Richardson Eating Disorder Service at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary unless all specialist centres around the country are full.

Those who need inpatient treatment in the North East – often for six months or more – must travel to the region’s only NHS commissioned centre in Darlington, almost 40 miles from the Tyneside service.

In a few cases, it is believed that patients have had to travel as far afield as York and Leeds when no beds have been available in Teesside, despite there being a four-bedded service in Newcastle with expert staff.

The North East Eating Disorder Action Group (NEEDAG) said the policy was “hurting local sufferers and their carers” and is calling for a commissioned inpatient service at Newcastle’s RVI.

Yet health chiefs have insisted that patients are receiving the highest possible standards of care, with millions of pounds invested in dealing with eating disorders in the region.

A spokesperson for NEEDAG said: “Our belief is that patients should be treated as near to home as possible to allow the continued support of loved ones, friends and seamless therapeutic support from trusted professionals. Eating disorder inpatient treatment is lengthy, six months is not unusual, and the strain separation causes to both patient and carers is inhumane and intolerable. Eating disorder sufferers want to be able to choose to be treated in their excellent eating disorder unit at the RVI.”

Eating disorders include a range of conditions such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Recent statistics showed that, for a second year, the North East has had the highest number of patients admitted to hospital for eating disorders. Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre revealed that in 2012-13 there were 6.5 admissions per 100,000 people.

The Richardson Eating Disorder Service provided adult inpatient care until 2010, when the contract was then awarded to Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust.

A small number of inpatient beds remain at Newcastle’s RVI, but only in very special cases will someone be allowed to stay at the non-commissioned service. Day treatment and outpatient appointments for eating disorders continue to be available at the hospital.

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: “This investment ensures patients receive the best possible specialised treatment to meet complex needs, whether this is in a highly specialised unit, through outpatient care or at home.

“The regional adult eating disorders inpatient and day services are commissioned by NHS England as a specialist service.

“In the rare case that a bed in Darlington is not available, the patient will be referred to another specialised unit commissioned by NHS England.

“In the last 12 months, less than a handful of patients have needed to travel out of the region.”

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah is backing NEEDAG’s call for there to be commissioned eating disorder inpatient beds in both Newcastle and Teesside. She said: “It is important that people facing these disorders are treated locally with family nearby, especially when Newcastle has such a good eating disorder unit.”

Support of the service is invaluable

Steven Brown, from Blaydon, who suffers from an eating disorder
Steven Brown, from Blaydon, who suffers from an eating disorder

Eating disorders can be life-threatening and it is estimated that 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely from their illness.

Newcastle University student Steven Brown, 33, has battled anorexia since he was just 15 years old. At his lowest he was the weight of a child.

In the past, Steven, of Blaydon, Gateshead, has been admitted three times to the Richardson Eating Disorder Service at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria
Infirmary. His longest inpatient
stay was 11 months.

He said: “The Richardson Eating Disorder Service is amazing. No-one likes being in hospital, but I cannot praise the staff there enough as they do all that they can to help you.

“Being on the ward was a difficult time for myself and my family, but the support my family and I received was invaluable.

“Without being close to where we lived, my family would not have been able to provide the extra support and reassurance throughout my treatment.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that people have to go to Darlington for inpatient treatment, when the service at the RVI is highly accredited.

“If people with an eating disorder are far away from their family and friends it makes the whole situation worse.”

Thanks to the help and support of the Richardson Eating Disorder Service Steven is well on his way to getting his life completely back on track.


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