Hospital chief's shock admission on youth eating disorder care

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The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said there has been significant increases to A&E, particularly in young people with eating disorders. - Credit: Getty Images

A Norfolk hospital boss has admitted it is "not set up to deal with" all the needs of young people with eating disorders as emergency cases soar during the pandemic.

Sam Higginson, chief executive of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said the increase had shone a "very firm spotlight" on the lack of provision. 

He said there had been a "significant increase" of people at A&E for their mental health - and it was particularly in young patients with eating disorders.

He said: "While we can look after them from a physical perspective, medically we are not set up to deal with the psychiatric and the mental health side of the care that they need."

The Care Quality Commission found the trust had improved its emergency care but access for patients who required mental health support "remained a challenge with the trust". 

Medical director Erika Denton said the pandemic had left a "significant health burden across society" and had led to a "very firm spotlight" being shone on the lack of provision and the need to do things differently.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) provides a 24/7 mental health acute liaison service across all three hospitals and work is under way to establish a local day treatment programme to try and reduce admissions.

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Tom Quinn, director of external affairs for the national charity Beat, said the rise was a concern as it suggested not enough people were accessing specialist treatment. 

He said it was essential government funding for mental health treatment reached eating disorder services. 

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He said: "Every person with an eating disorder should be able to access high quality treatment in their local area as quickly as possible.

"More children and young people with eating disorders are being treated by NHS Norfolk than ever before, but demand is increasing at an even faster rate.

"We encourage anybody struggling to get in touch with their GP as soon as possible."

A spokesman for the NHS in Norfolk and Waveney said: "It is really important that we make sure that people are able to go home as soon as safely possible.

"In some situations, the young person may require admission to a specialist eating disorder unit. There are times when a bed is not immediately available, during which time NSFT work closely with acute hospitals to provide as much support as possible."

• If you are worried about your mental health you can call the First Response 24-hour helpline on 0808 196 3494.

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