Eating Disorders Training and Support

March 14, 2022

Comprehensive Eating Disorder Training

A recent survey by Beat showed 69% of people with an eating disorder (ED) felt that their GP didn’t know how to help them, and 92% thought that their GP would benefit from more training. It is proven that early intervention leads to significantly improved clinical outcomes for those suffering with eating disorders, yet 67% said early opportunities to identify their eating disorder were missed by their GP - delaying treatment and recovery. Most medical students receive less than 2 hours of training on eating disorders across their whole degree which, Beat is arguing, is not enough. They are calling for medical schools to provide comprehensive eating disorder training, so that future doctors can confidently identify disordered eating behaviours and signpost patients to timely specialist support.

The impact of COVID-19

Overall incidence of eating disorders rose by 15% in 2020. COVID-19 has put healthcare systems under greater pressure than ever before, with “non urgent” medical treatment delayed to handle the rise in COVID-related illness. As a result, under-resourced surgeries and clinics are increasingly stretched and waiting lists for mental health and eating disorder support are at an all-time high.

In November 2020, NHS England announced plans to scale up an early intervention service for young people with eating disorders, to reduce waiting times and improve outcomes. The 2015 publication ‘Access and Waiting Time Standard for Children and Young People with an Eating Disorder’ stated that by 2020, 95% of those referred for assessment or treatment for an eating disorder should receive NICE-approved treatment within one week in urgent cases, and four weeks in non-urgent cases. By Q2 of 2021/22 37% of urgent cases did not begin treatment within one week and 35% of routine cases did not receive treatment within four weeks - it is clear that the aspirations of 2015 had not been met.

Bridging the waiting list gap

Timely support is a critical factor in ED recovery and technological companies have offered digital solutions to bridge the ‘waiting list gap’, providing support while people wait for NHS care.

During the pandemic, an increase in eating disorder service referrals indicates a worsening of people’s mental health as many risk factors such as social isolation, loss of routine, and difficulties accessing face-to-face clinical appointments have been exacerbated.

Stephen Touyz, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Sydney, told the BMJ the spectacular advances made by the virtual reality sector may now assist with body shape over-evaluation. Smartwatches could be developed to enable live streaming feedback at mealtimes, one of the greatest challenges for patients with eating disorders.

Technology can also analyse an individual’s symptoms to develop personalised treatment plans = which can include interventions like physical stabilisation, self-awareness training and the importance of self-care - to prepare patients for a healthy, fulfilled life with their family and local community.

Holly Health’s digital health coach can provide immediate behavioural support to people waiting to access NHS services, or as add-on support to existing care and beyond. Using evidence-based techniques, such as mindfulness based interventions, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) the app helps people understand their underlying emotional, psychological and social triggers around food. The digital app, available 24/7, helps people identify and sustain small behaviours to improve their relationships with eating and improve their mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

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