Doctors with just a couple of hours’ training in eating disorders are leaving anorexics feeling under pressure to get thinner to receive help, experts have warned.
A damning report by MPs says the NHS is failing those suffering from potentially lethal conditions, with many left months to receive any care.
The select committee highlights a serious lack of training in medical school, leaving many doctors falsely believing that treatment should only be recommended if a patient is extremely underweight.
It came as research by charities warned that in some areas, average waiting times for treatment have reached almost six months, with a 12-fold variation in delays across the country.
The study by Beat said patients were being left to become dangerously thin, and suicical, by the time they received help.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said patients were being left to die, for want of help at the right time, urging the Government to “adopt a sense of urgency to stop this problem from spiralling”.
He said: “My committee found serious failings in NHS care for people with eating disorders – doctors only receive a couple of hours of training, patients are left waiting for months for care and the NHS doesn’t even have accurate data on the number of people suffering from an eating disorder throughout the UK.”
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses.
Yet the committee heard evidence that GPs believed they could not section a patient at risk of death “because they were not suffering from a mental illness”.
The committee called for eating disorders to be put on the medical curriculum, warning that many doctors had almost no training in the subject.
Experts also told how GPs had suggested to patients suffering from anorexia that other thinner patients were more “deserving” of treatment, causing the condition to spiral.
The study by Beat found a postcode lottery in waiting times for treatment. At one eating disorder service there was an average delay of five and a half months, while another service had average waiting times of two weeks.
Nationally, the average wait was nine weeks, with almost one in five adults have to wait for more than four months to begin treatment.
Women suffering from eating disorders said they were left feeling under pressure to starve to receive treatment.
One, called Alice said she became suicidal, after a seven month wait for treatment, telling researchers she was left feeling that the only way to receive help, was to starve herself further.
The report also showed that the availability of treatment varied drastically between services. Some services offered treatment to up to 80 people per 100,000 population, while others accepted between twelve to fifteen for the same population size.
Andrew Radford, chief executive of Beat, said, “This research should set alarm bells ringing in the Government and NHS. Eating disorders have among the highest mortality rates of any mental illness, yet people’s chances of recovery are being subjected to a lottery and lives are at risk.”
He said adults with eating disorders were being discriminated against because of their age.
The NHS has set targets to speed up treatment of children and young people with eating disorders, but not done so for adults.