Urgent funding plea after eating disorder surge in Peterborough during Covid
Lockdown has triggered a surge in eating disorder referrals in Peterborough with a city charity making an urgent plea for funding to support patients.
Personalised Eating Disorder Support (PEDS) has seen a 400 per cent rise in referrals since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, with 50 patients every month approaching it for help.
The charity based at the Boroughbury Medical Centre in Craig Street is now calling on the Government to commit new money to tackling the problem with local services having to prioritise those with the greater need.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, with the issue receiving widespread attention following recent inquests into the deaths of five women with anorexia.
This prompted assistant coroner for Cambridgeshire Sean Horstead to warn that there may be a “significant under-reporting” of the extent to which eating disorders have caused or contributed to deaths.
Mr Horstead also wrote to parties including Health Secretary Matt Hancock asking for a timetable for action after stating there is a lack of training of doctors and other medical professionals about eating disorders.
PEDS co-founder Mandy Scott said the problems caused by lockdown are being mirrored up and down the country and will require a multi-year funding commitment from the Government to ensure everyone receives timely support.
She told the Peterborough Telegraph: “There has been a huge rise in the number of people struggling with eating disorders. PEDS has seen a 400 per cent increase in our referrals since Covid - we usually have around 100 referrals a year and at present we are having, on average, 50 per month.
“Services are overwhelmed at this time.
“Eating disorders are about control. To give an example, we have a contract with the University of Cambridge where a lot of students have had their world turned upside down - they’re either not being able to go back or on campus isolating.
“They’re not seeing friends and are spending 12 hours a day in their rooms doing work. They can’t control any of that but can control their eating disorder.”
There has been a “massive surge” in both new cases and people relapsing during lockdown, Mandy said, with waiting lists for both adults and children increasing.
The majority of patients self-refer through the PEDS website, while others are referred by GPs or NHS mental health services run by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT).
During the pandemic PEDS has been able to reach more people through Zoom and Teams, while the clinic at Boroughbury is now open one day a week allowing for initial assessments to be carried out face-to-face in a comforting environment.
The eating disorder patient weekly support group, which runs every Thursday evening, is also well attended with around 20 participants who are able to share their experiences and positive recovery stories.
Moreover, PEDS has trained GPs and charities to recognise the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and created an educational toolkit which will soon be sent to all secondary schools in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire.
“Ordinarily you would hope cases would be picked up by school wellbeing teams, but that couldn’t happen during lockdown,” Mandy said. “Parents see children day-in day-out so don’t realise they’re losing weight. It’s really being aware of those signs and symptoms.”
PEDS, which began as a voluntary service in April 2014, has contracts with both the University of Cambridge and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group which commissions health services across the county.
The recent surge in referrals means its funding does not cover all of its overheads, with PEDS currently appealing for donations to make sure it can support more patients.
The escalation in people seeking support also means longer waiting lists and overstretched services having to prioritise those at the most urgent risk.
Mandy said: “We work closely with the pathway for the Cambridgeshire eating disorder service. Because of the surge in referrals they’ve had to put in priority for need.
“People are having to wait longer than they ordinarily would due to a surging need and not having capacity to meet those demands.
“The Government needs to put in more money and ringfence it for eating disorders.
“Medical students also need proper training and the BMI shouldn’t be used as sole tool for eating disorders. It’s a factor but not the whole factor.”
Despite the pressures Mandy is urging people to join a profession which she describes as “challenging but rewarding,” with many people recovering with the right support.
The Department of Health & Social Care said it will respond to Mr Horstead by his deadline of April 28.
A spokesperson added: “It is crucial that people with an eating disorder get the support they need when they need it.
“Our Mental Health Recovery Action Plan is backed by £500 million to ensure we have the right support in place over the coming year to help people with a variety of mental health conditions, including eating disorders.
“Alongside this, NHS England is launching vital early intervention services for young people with eating disorders with the aim that they can begin treatment within two weeks.”
Anyone interested in a career within eating disorder services can get in touch with PEDS or CPFT adult eating disorder services at https://www.cpft.nhs.uk/adult-eating-disorder-services/.
To donate to PEDS, and to find more information on the support it can offer, visit: https://www.pedsupport.co.uk/.
The CPFT First Response Service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to those in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough who call the NHS 111 helpline and select option 2.