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news: uk government’s refusal on eating disorders

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Title/Topic: UK Government’s Refusal on Eating Disorders
Posted On: 11/8/2008
 
Nov 8 2008 (EDP24) – The government refused to commission a study into the prevalence of potentially fatal eating disorders in the UK, it emerged last night.

The revelation that the Department of Health did not consider it a priority came to light after an inquest heard the tragic case of a highly ambitious 18-year-old who died of anorexia following “inappropriate” delays in her treatment.

Charlotte Robinson, of Worstead, near North Walsham, rapidly lost weight but was not assessed by a mental health nurse for five weeks and waited another month to see her again, by which time her body mass index BMI was within the critical zone.

She weighed XXX stone* when she was admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and was too weak to fight off a fatal bout of pneumonia in August last year.

Six months after her death, the then deputy prime minister John Prescott revealed his own battle with bulimia and pushed for a study into the number of people diagnosed with eating disorders.

But the Department of Health refused his request, which had been made on behalf of Norwich-based charity Beat, despite the serious dangers associated with anorexia.

Beat’s chief executive Susan Ringwood said the prevalence of the eating disorder that claimed Miss Robinson’s life is still unknown because no national statistics exist and GPs are not encouraged to keep records.

“The response from the government makes me more determined to carry on and fight for change,” she said.

“We’ve still got a very long way to go and we know that there are still many people who do not know where to turn.

“I think in the case of Charlotte, primary care felt they could manage her even when she was very seriously ill, and that’s something that our research has shown far too often.

“The planning of people’s care and making sure that people making those decisions are managed sufficiently must be a priority.”

Greater Norfolk coroner William Armstrong criticised failures in the system that reduced Charlotte’s chances of recovery and made recommendations to NHS Norfolk and Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust, which are already working together on a review of services.

NHS Norfolk’s assistant director for commissioning Mark Weston said the East of England Strategic Health Authority had already looked at how the county’s health system deals with someone with an eating disorder, and would release a report next month.

He said it would work with Beat, had already made managerial changes and anticipated making a major investment in alterations to local services.

“I would certainly expect that that over the course of the next year we will see some monumental changes,” he said.

Dr Kathy Chapman, a locality manager with the mental health trust, explained that it envisaged providing specialist support and advice within its community mental health service.

Consultant psychiatrist Jonathan Wilson, who has a special interest in eating disorders, said the patient should ideally encounter intensive specialist treatment and rehabilitation as an outpatient two or three times a week, with links to inpatient care if necessary.

“Patients need a ‘hang on in there’ approach and a lot of support and motivational work before the serious psychotherapy begins once they are physically strong enough,” he said.

“They then need help to get a job, go out and have a relationship because they have usually missed out on all those things.

“We always see a really good night out with their friends as a hugely positive step.”

North Norfolk MP and Liberal Democrat spokesman on health Norman Lamb said he had been in close contact with Miss Robinson’s parents throughout the case and hoped to meet with them and the health trusts in the near future.

“The fact that no study has been commissioned by the government needs to be revisited and I am happy to work with John Prescott or any minister on that,” he said.

“We also need to look at the whole clinical pathway and ensure that GPs and other clinicians treat eating disorders with the priority they deserve.

“Her parents are keen for the recommendations from the inquest to be adhered to and want some good to come out of this tragedy.”

The Department of Health last night declined to comment.

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