A recent survey of 331 people with eating disorders has revealed that 26% had waited more than six months for their treatment to start – a long length of time considering that eating disorders are fatal in up to 20% of cases (the highest death rate of any mental illness).
Hayley Martin is no stranger to waiting lists. After developing anorexia and bulimia at the age of 15, Hayley’s relationship with food continued to spiral downhill and eventually resulted in her having to drop out of university.
“My binges could last for six to 10 hours. Then the next day I would starve myself.” She explained.
When Hayley did eventually seek help, she was severely underweight and had expected to receive a specialist referral that would get her on the road to recovery.
Unfortunately however, it was six months before she received a proper assessment, after which she was then told it would be a further 18 months before treatment could begin.
“You’re just left stranded. You think, ‘If I make myself worse they might take more notice’.” She said.
In the time between Hayley’s assessment and what would have been the start date for her treatment, she continued to starve herself and binge before eventually attempting to take her own life.
Should Hayley have been suffering from a physical ailment, the law states that treatment should be provided within no more than 18 weeks. For mental health however, there is no such assurance.
Hayley never did see a specialist and explains how it was support from her GP and loved ones that saw her through her eating disorder. She has now been in recovery for just short of a year and is convinced that should she have received help when she was in desperate need – things would not have become so bad.
Chief executive of Beat, Susan Ringwood believes that early treatment is absolutely key for eating disorders and is calling on the government to set clear waiting times so people know when their treatment will begin.
Norman Lamb, care minister, has said that reviewing NHS England waiting times for individuals with mental health illnesses has to be a “very urgent priority”.
“I want to get to a point where, by 2015, we introduce access standards, so that people know how long they should be expected to wait as a maximum.” He explained.
Lamb later admitted that whilst he is determined to implement a stronger system, it is not going to be easy and he is unsure as to whether it’s achievable.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder and are currently on the NHS waiting list, it may be worth considering a private counsellor who specialises in this field.
Seeking help using this avenue will mean you are able to secure treatment earlier on when it is really needed.