Eating Disorder Patients Are Being Told To ‘Get Thinner’ If They Want More Help From GPs

More needs to be done to get patients the help they need before the problem gets worse.

Eating Disorder Patients Are Being Told To 'Get Thinner' If They Want More Help From GPs

by Tara Lepore |
Published on

Three in 10 people with an eating disorder are not getting the help they need from GPs quickly enough, according to a survey released by charity Beat earlier today.

Research into 1,700 patients showed that many believed access to help depended on a patient’s weight - with many effectively told to come back 'once they were thinner'. One reason for this could be down to how some patients are initially monitored. GPs record the weight reading of patients at routine appointments, using measurements to track their progress. This method has raised concern among some charities and healthcare advisory services that eating disorders are seen as a physical problem, rather than a mental health issue.

Three in 10 of those polled said they hadn’t been referred to a mental health service for treatment, and half said the treatment they’d experienced from GPs was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. One in six were so frustrated with the lack of help that they switched GP, hoping to access treatment before the problem got worse.

One 22-year-old was even told to ‘just eat’ by her doctor, in line with the survey’s findings that sufferers don’t believe their GPs know enough about the complexities of eating disorders and the importance of early intervention.

At least 725,000 people in the UK have an eating disorder - and almost nine in ten of those are women. Most cases develop between the ages of 14 and 25, but the psychological consequences can last a lot longer.

The charity Beat, which ran the research, said that GPs didn’t know enough about the importance of intervening early, before the problem becomes more embedded and much harder to treat. The charity is now calling for more to be done to train GPs - and particularly junior doctors - to recognise early signs of eating disorders in patients.

Beat Chief Executive Andrew Radford said: 'Not only do GPs play an essential role in identifying and referring their patients, but a knowledgeable and compassionate GP can make a big contribution to recovery by coordinating their care and monitoring their health.

'We are [now] calling for increased training on eating disorders for junior doctors specialising in general practice, as well as sufficient training in medical schools and appropriate examination.'

However, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) firmly objected to this, blaming a lack of services as the reason why referral rates are so low.

RCGP Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ’It is simply not true that GPs are not trained to identify and treat patients with eating disorders – as with all other aspects of mental health.

'In some cases the condition can be dealt with effectively in primary care. Some patients, for a number of reasons, might not want a referral and in these cases the GP will respect their wishes,' she said.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) - a non-departmental body which provides information and advice for the NHS - said GPs must no longer wait around to refer patients, amid concern that too many doctors are waiting for symptoms to worsen before intervening.

But the research seems to have sparked action at government level, with the Department of Health pledging £150 million to improve services and set maximum waiting times by 2020. A DoH spokesman said: 'Getting speedy access to care for eating disorders is vital and we are working hard to improve waiting times.

'95 per cent of young people affected by eating disorders should be seen within four weeks – and the most urgent cases will get support within 24 hours.'

The news comes at the beginning of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which starts today. Beat will meet with healthcare professionals and MPs to discuss the issue tomorrow - keep up with the progress on their Twitter page here. You can also sign the petition, to ensure all GPs are able to refer eating disorders sufferers to treatment without delay, here.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

From Fresher's Week Diets To Veganuary: The Complex Reality Of Disordered Eating

The True Cost of the NHS’s Inability To Deal With Eating Disorders

'Did I Inherit My Disordered Eating Habits From My Mum?'

Follow Tara on Twitter @taralepore

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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