There has been a dramatic rise in hospital admissions for potentially life-threatening eating disorders in the last year, prompting concern from experts about a growing crisis of young people experiencing anorexia and bulimia.
Figures seen by the Guardian show year-on-year rises in hospital visits, with admission numbers more than doubling from 7,260 in 2010-11 to 16,023 in the year to April 2018. The latest figure is up from 13,885 the year before – the highest spike in eight years.
Experts said the surge in numbers was down to the failure of NHS services to tackle anorexia and bulimia at an earlier stage, before people become so unwell that they need to be admitted to hospital.
The figures, obtained by the Guardian from NHS Digital, come as the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, Beat, said that calls to its helpline had surged from 17,000 in 2017-18 to an estimated 30,000 in 2018-19.
Concern has also been raised about the number of young people experiencing problems due to exam and societal pressure, which can be exacerbated by social media.
Over the last four decades, the reported prevalence of eating disorders has increased, although there is no indication as to whether this is due to more awareness of the problem or more people experiencing eating disorders. Beat estimates that there are more than 1.25m people with an eating disorder across the UK.
The latest data shows that admissions with a primary or secondary diagnosis of an eating disorder are at their highest level in at least eight years. Previously, analysis showed a surge in the number of teenage girls and women in their early 20s was behind the dramatic rise. The admissions for those aged under 19 for anorexia went from 1,050 in 2010-11 to over 2,025 in 2016-17.
“Rising hospital admissions show that outpatient services are failing to treat enough people with eating disorders soon enough. The government and NHS can readily address this by offering more intensive community care,” said Beat’s chief executive Andrew Radford.
Dr Dasha Nicholls, chair of the eating disorders faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said the increase in admissions could reflect one of three things: increases in numbers of people seeking treatment for eating disorders, increases in the severity of their illness, or a lack of community services to support people to be treated out of hospital. “We know that adult outpatient services are under-resourced and are therefore unable to meet the need for outpatient and day patient treatment adequately,” she said.
In Australia, the Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders helpline number is 1800-33-4673.
In the UK, B-eat can be contacted on 0808-801-0677 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org (over-18s), email@example.com (students) or firstname.lastname@example.org (under-18s).
In the US, the National Eating Disorders Association helpline number is 1-800-931-2237. In Australia, the Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders helpline number is 1800-33-4673.
Source: The Guardian