Grieving Norfolk father hopes for better eating disorder care

It is more than two years since a coroner made strong recommendations for improving care for people with eating disorders, following the tragic death of a Norfolk teenager. In Eating Disorders Awareness Week, health correspondent Kim Briscoe looks at what help there is now.

In August 2007, A-level student Charlotte Robinson died after a battle with an eating disorder.

At an inquest into her death, Greater Norfolk coroner William Armstrong said in a narrative verdict that he would make recommendations on improvements to care for people with this mental illness

The inquest heard there had been a five-week delay between the Paston College student's referral by a GP and an assessment by a mental health nurse. There was a further month's wait after her initial assessment.

Today her father Chris Robinson, from Worstead, near North Walsham, said he had battled to get the improvements and that a new Community Eating Disorder Service (CEDS) should help to improve care for people with the illness.

He said: 'The message needs to go out that there is commitment and funding now for a new service and there is a pathway.

'In the past there was an incompetent and inefficient system in place which was unable to cater for people who were ill with eating disorders. That now should be ideally fixed.

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'We now want to raise awareness of the fact there is a new service in place and people need to to use it.'

NHS Norfolk recently commissioned Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) to provide the CEDS in Norfolk. CPFT works in partnership with Beat, the Norwich-based national support service for people with eating disorders and their carers.

The service came into full effect on January 1 of this year and is expected to complete treatment for about 350 people each year. Quicker access means that patients will receive care and treatment before their illness becomes too severe.

As part of the service there is support for patients provided by Beat, including a telephone helpline, a dedicated website, self-help groups and support resources enabling more seamless care when patients move between community and in-patient services.

NHS Norfolk's assistant director of mental health, Clive Rennie, said: 'It is a very robust, evidence-based service which offers support to patients, their families and carers.'

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of eating disorders charity Beat, said: 'It's early days. We have seen some encouraging improvements, not least the investment in this work to make sure people do get the right support at the right time.'

She added: 'It probably wouldn't have happened without the Robinsons, but that shouldn't be what it takes to get the kind of support and treatment patients need to have.'

But incredibly, there is still no national strategy for tackling eating disorders.

Elsewhere in the county the Central Norfolk Child and Adolescent Eating Disorder Service works in south Norfolk, the Norwich area and north Norfolk and has seen patients referred to them as young as eight.

Penny Baily, founder and director of the Norwich-based Newmarket House clinic for people with eating disorders, says she has concerns there is a national trend towards treating people who have a body mass index of less than 15 in the community – something she does not think is appropriate.

However, the establishment of the new Community Eating Disorder Service means that the Norfolk Eating Disorders Association faces losing a lot of its funding.

It is still in talks with NHS Norfolk about funding, but the future is very uncertain for this organisation, which is based in Colegate in Norwich.

Jackie Hargreaves, director of the Norfolk Eating Disorders Association, said its service was vital because it has an 'open door' policy and supports people who are unwilling to go through the NHS system to get help.

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