28/01/2004

Eating disorder support highlighted in NHS guidelines

New health guidelines aimed at proving greater support to those suffering from eating disorders have been issued by NHS watchdog, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Issued to GPs and mental health specialists, the guidelines recommend specific treatment plans for each condition, stressing the need for a full assessment of the physical, psychological and social aspects involved in each individual case.

The guidelines also recommend that families should become involved as an integral part of the treatment plan, and a special information booklet is being produced for parents and families.

It is thought that around 1.1 million people in the UK suffer from some sort of eating disorder, with those affected ranging in age from children as young as 8 to the over 65s. However, the majority of those who suffer from anorexia nervosa are teenage girls aged between 13-19, while the average for the onset of bulimia is 17-21.

Andrea Sutcliffe, Planning and Resources Director at NICE, said: "With about one in 250 females and one in 2,000 males experiencing anorexia in adolescence or young adulthood and about five times that number suffering from bulimia, this guideline is an important step in standardising the care available to people with eating disorders."

The guidelines have been greeted with a mixed response by experts, who have praised the attempt to raise awareness, but query the availability of NHS resources to fully implement the advice.

Indeed, a review undertaken by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2001 found that that the availability of specialist eating disorder services was "inadequate in large parts of the country", with four regions having no access to specialist services at all. The report recommended a substantial increase in consultant psychiatrists trained to diagnose and treat eating disorders.

Two years later, the Royal College found that over half the people with eating disorders were still being denied appropriate treatment. Speaking in July 2003, Professor Christopher Fairburn of Oxford University, said: “Some people with a mixed picture are difficult to treat and have been ignored. At the moment we are turning a blind eye to half our cases."

(CL)

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