Number of new patients being treated for eating disorders up by 50% in four years
THE number of new patients being treated for an eating disorder in Northern Ireland has increased by more than 50 per cent in four years.
The volume of non-inpatient mental health service contacts that are seen by Eating Disorder Services in Health and Social Care Trusts has steadily increased since 2012, with 505 new cases last year alone.
The figures for 2012/13 stood at 327, increasing to 386 in 2013/14 and then to 452 the following year.
At present there are four specialist eating disorder teams in Northern Ireland located within the Western Trust, Northern Trust, Belfast and South Eastern Trust and Southern Trust.
Ann McCann founder member of support group Eating Disorders Association Northern Ireland said the figures only told part of the story.
She told the Irish News the service for those living with eating disorders in the north was "limited" and in need of investment, highlighting the problem of waiting lists and a lack of any specialist inpatient beds.
"The specialist service was set up 10 years ago and was to be enhanced every year until it got the proper quota of therapists and dieticians, but with the cut back in funds that stopped after a couple of years," she said.
"You're talking about a service that was going to be very effective and comprehensive and it's cut off before that happens. You could treble the staff in those teams and then you would be talking about a service," she said.
Mrs McCann noted that children as young as nine or 10 are now being identified as having some form of eating disorder, while there has been a notable increase in the number of young boys referred.
"I have seen an increase in parents ringing about young boys. It manifests itself in a different way, but underlying low-self-esteem, lack of confidence are there . It manifests itself in things like over-exercising and not eating, " she added.
SDLP MLA Mark H. Durkan who tabled the question said the figures were "frightening".