Hospital admissions among under-17s have risen by 41 per cent in one year with the NHS struggling to meet demand for treatment.
There has been a big surge in eating disorder cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, with NHS Digital data for England showing a sharp rise in hospital admissions in every area of the country – with higher numbers of hospital admissions in the south-east and south-west than in most other regions.
The data, which covers the period from April to October 2021, reveals 4,238 hospital admissions for under-17s, an increase of 41 per cent from the same period in 2020. There was a total of 15,941 admissions in the same period for all age groups – with 5,941 admissions for anorexia and 3,263 for bulimia which were the top two reasons for hospitalisation.
Among the under-17s, the 2021 figure for hospitalisation is a 69 per cent increase on the pre-pandemic year of 2019, which reported 2,508 admissions for the under-17s.
Psychiatrists and charities working with eating disorders warn that these figures are only the “tip of the iceberg” with thousands more children needing support for eating disorders.
“The hidden epidemic of eating disorders has surged during the pandemic, with many community services now overstretched and unable to treat the sheer number of people needing help,” Dr Agnes Ayton, chair of the eating disorders faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told The Guardian. “Early intervention is key to preventing serious illness, which is why it’s crucial that the money announced by government reaches the frontline [quickly].”
Meanwhile, Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at the eating disorders charity, Beat, emphasised that the rise in admissions illustrates that people aren’t getting the care and support they need in the community.
“We know that accessing quality community treatment reduces the chances of somebody needing hospital care, and so the rise in admissions suggests that people aren’t getting the support they need quickly enough,” he told The Guardian, adding that the pandemic had had a devastating impact on people with eating disorders.
“The number of hospital admissions is only the tip of the iceberg, and there are many other people needing support for eating disorders,” he concluded.
If you are looking for mental health support, you can find local sources of support on this website.
West Sussex Mind and Me Learning run a free e-learning course about eating disorders aimed at individuals and parents who want to gain a greater understanding of eating disorders and their causes and effects. It is also suitable for health and education, health and social care professionals as an introduction to this area.