The number of referrals for eating disorders in the Northern Trust area has increased 29 per cent in the five years leading East Londonderry MLA Claire Sugden to call for ‘improved services’.
In 2020/21 there were 187 compared to 145 in 2016/17. These figures are the total number of people seeking the help of both the Adult Eating Disorder services and Child Eating Disorder services.
The Northern Trust figures, which exceeded the Northern Ireland average of 23 per cent, were released by the Department of Health at the request of MLA Claire Sugden.
Ms Sugden has described the increase as ‘concerning’ calling for this worrying rise ‘to be met with a commitment to improve services’.
She said: “Any increase in referrals for eating disorders is concerning, particularly an overall rise of this magnitude and relating to an illness that can disproportionately affect young people and even children.
“It is clear that services for those with an eating disorder must be improved, something that was highlighted in a 2016 review of the subject that had input from the Regional Eating Disorder Network Group.
“That the figures have continued to rise since the report was published, and above the average for Northern Ireland, underlines the need to move quickly and definitively on providing better services to both help prevent and treat eating disorders at the earliest opportunity.”
Speaking on the matter, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “While Northern Ireland already has a regional network for the provision of services for people with an eating disorder, outcomes for these patients could be improved.
“I recently approved the strategic policy direction for future eating disorder services flowing from a review carried out by the Regional Eating Disorder Network Group (REDNG), and this has been reflected in the recently published Mental Health Strategy 2021-31.”
Ms Sugden said she ‘welcomed’ the Minister’s acknowledgement that outcomes for these patients could be improved, and the need for enhancing these services was included in the recent Mental Health Strategy. However, she felt that ‘funding concerns around the 10-year strategy remain.’
“Mr Swann has said £1.2bn is needed to fully implement it,” she added.
“It is clear that eating disorder services cannot be allowed to stagnate and must be improved.
“This could either be through funding, a more efficient use of resources or with innovative new solutions.
“I would urge the minister to commit to doing so, in order that these figures start moving in the right direction.”