Campaigners say a £5 million funding boost to tackle eating disorders has come at a crucial time, with demand for one charity almost tripling amid the pandemic.
Since coronavirus began sweeping the world, more eating disorder patients have been presenting “later and significantly more unwell” than they had previously.
Inquiries to one charity have jumped almost three-fold in the last year, while referrals to child and adolescent mental health services have experienced an “unprecedented increase”.
A national review of eating disorder services was carried out in March, and the Scottish Government has announced a £5m package to expand the range of eating disorder treatments available.
Some of the money will be given to charity Beat, which has seen a 195% rise in demand for its services since the pandemic began.
A group to oversee future changes will also be set up and co-chaired by Aberdeenshire councillor and former MSP Dennis Robertson, whose daughter died with anorexia nervosa in 2011.
It is hoped the cash can be used to intervene before people get too sick from an eating disorder.
The sooner someone receives treatment, the less likely it is their condition will become severe enough to warrant a hospital admission.
Exclusive figures from NHS Grampian have revealed a gradual decrease in the number of patients hospitalised as a result of an eating disorder – suggesting early intervention efforts are paying off.
In 2020 there were 33 patients admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital or Royal Cornhill Clinic for these conditions.
This marked a drop from 36 in 2019, 42 in 2018 and 43 in 2017.
Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett said early interventions are “absolutely essential” when dealing with such illnesses.
“By the time someone is ill enough to be admitted to the likes of ARI, the eating disorder is so deeply embedded it can take years of treatment for them to fully recover,” he added.
“The pandemic has of course made things more difficult, and digital support is often not an option because people may have a strong reaction to using screens.
“As we carefully get services up and running, I’d like to see a focus on helping these vulnerable patients in person.”
He added: “It’s high time that such an important treatment pathway was given some extra funding.
“The crucial thing will be getting the money out the door now, and making sure that it contributes meaningfully to early diagnosis and treatment.”
Charity help available
Tom Quinn from Beat, formerly the Eating Disorders Association, said: “The sooner someone gets help for their eating disorder, the better their chances of making a full recovery.
“We are looking forward to partnering with services across Scotland to ensure those with eating disorders and their families get the support they need.
“The pandemic has been particularly difficult for those affected by eating disorders, with demand for our helpline increasing by 195%, and it remains a critical time for eating disorder services across the country.
“It is vital that the extra money promised by Scottish Government reaches the frontline as soon as possible and that the recommendations in the recent review of eating disorder services are implemented quickly.”
The charity’s helpline is available every day of the year, from 9am-8pm during the week and 4-8pm on weekends and bank holidays.
It can be reached at 0808 801 0677, with its student line on 0808 801 0811 and youth service on 0808 801 0711.
Information on email and web chat support is available at beateatingdisorders.org.uk