Thank you for contacting me.
With eating disorders on the rise, please let me assure you that tackling these disorders through early and effective treatment remains a key priority of our NHS. I firmly support Eating Disorders Awareness Week as an important way of raising awareness for these conditions.
Early intervention is absolutely vital in the fight against eating disorders and everyone with an eating disorder must have access to timely treatment. That is why I am glad that an ambitious new access standard has been introduced, aiming for 95 per cent of children (up to 19 years old) with eating disorders to receive treatment within a week for urgent cases and four weeks for routine cases by the end of 2020. While in view of the coronavirus pandemic I know that this has been a particularly challenging year, and I share your disappointment that this target was not met, I know that NHS staff have been working extremely hard to refer people as quickly as possible: I am certain that services will continue to improve, particularly as NHS services return to normal following the disruption of the past year.
As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, published in 2019 and delivering a £33.9 billion cash funding increase, the next five years will see boosted investment in children and young people’s eating disorder services. Four fifths of children and young people with an eating disorder now receive treatment within one week in urgent cases and four weeks for non-urgent cases. As need continues to rise, extra investment will allow the NHS to maintain delivery of the 95 per cent standard beyond 2020/21.
Eating disorders are an acutely distressing mental illness but with the right approach, and appropriate investment, I am confident that the NHS will be able to offer help, care, and support to all those who suffer from eating disorders.
I know that my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care recognise concerns people with eating disorders may have on measures to reduce obesity, and I support their commitment to striking a careful balance between enabling people to make healthier food and drink choices whilst not negatively impacting on those with or recovering from an eating disorder. I completely appreciate and understand your concerns about calorie labelling at large out-of-home businesses with 250 or more employees. Alongside work to develop the obesity strategy, an equality assessment was undertaken to understand the impact of these proposals, including on people with eating disorders. My understanding is that, although some research has shown that label use on packaged foods was related to engagement in some unhealthy weight behaviours, there is a larger likelihood of participants engaging with healthy weight control behaviours.
With more than a third of children leaving primary school overweight or obese, and nearly two thirds of adults, it is vital that we equip people with the information to make decisions about their food intake. Information on the energy content of food and drink is already widely available in supermarkets through mandatory nutrition labelling requirements on pre-packaged foods and some restaurants. I know that the Government is committed to striking a careful balance between informing and educating people to make healthier choices, while not negatively impacting people with eating disorders or those in recovery from eating disorders. This issue will, of course, require careful monitoring, and I will certainly keep a close eye going forwards.
The importance of early intervention to help people with eating disorders cannot be underestimated, which is why I welcome increased funding for children and young people’s mental health, in particular, to help to identify people suffering with the mental distress of an eating disorder. The NHS Long Term Plan, through a £2.3 billion uplift in annual mental health funding, makes a commitment to enable an additional 345,000 children and young people aged 0-25 to access support via NHS funded mental health services and school or college-based mental health support teams. Using BMI to identify people with an eating disorder remains a useful tool, but I am pleased that improved access to mental health support will enable earlier intervention for young people.
Finally, I know the Government is committed to improving eating disorder services for adults. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has updated its guidelines, and NHS England recently completed a national review of provision. While NHS England is now considering next steps for the four-week waiting time pilots for adults announced in the NHS Long Term Plan, my colleagues in the Department for Health and Social Care are working to ensure that people are properly supported as they transfer between children’s and adults’ services I am pleased that the Government is currently delivering against the standards set for waiting times for eating disorder treatment.
Thank you for getting in touch.
Richard Fuller MP