I have coordinated a cross-party letter, signed by 40 parliamentarians, to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of tomorrow’s budget, calling for more support for eating disorder services during the Covid-19 crisis.

Whilst hospital admissions for eating disorders were rising prior to the pandemic, the past year has seen record increases, especially amongst teenagers. The year 2019-2020 saw a 32% increase from 2017-2018 to 21,794 cases. Nearly 5,000 of those cases were children.

In addition to hospital admissions, since the start of the pandemic eating disorder charities have seen an increased strain on their services. Between February 2020 and January 2021, the eating disorders Charity, Beat, who I met with earlier this week, reported a 173% surge in demand for their services. 

NHS support services in Sheffield have also reported a rise in referrals over the past year, and psychologists in South Yorkshire have warned that there has been an increase in more serious cases, because early signs of eating disorders haven’t been spotted and dealt with at an early stage.

It can be easy to forget, or ignore, the staggering effect of the pandemic on people’s mental health. But these statistics speak for themselves. Our country is facing a severe mental health crisis, exacerbated by years of underfunded frontline services. I’ve seen it in Hallam, and I know my colleagues across Sheffield and South Yorkshire have too.

Our letter to the Chancellor says:

 “Clearly, even before the recent public health crisis, demand for the specialist healthcare services related to eating disorders was outstripping capacity. The public health crisis and rolling lockdown conditions have increased the risk of developing an eating disorder and aggravated the challenges faced by those who suffer with one.”

“Our own NHS Trusts have said that while they can treat the physical symptoms, they often do not have capacity to provide appropriate mental health support for the seriously ill inpatients who require hospitalisation due to their eating disorder.”

“We urge you to use the Spring budget as an opportunity to fund these services and ensure that people receive the appropriate mental health provision needed for effective treatment.”

We are also calling on the government to provide a consistent, fully-funded “Access and Waiting Time Standard” for adults seeking support, like that in place for children with eating disorders. This would ensure everyone can access support early and help halt the rising levels of hospital admissions. The Chancellor must also provide investment for innovative forms of treatment and further research into the most effective forms of care.

Tomorrow’s budget is an opportunity for the Government to invest in hospital mental health services to provide the specialist inpatient support those suffering with an eating disorder require. I sincerely hope the Chancellor will listen to MPs and Lords and provide this funding.

I have also signed an Early Day Motion ahead of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which started yesterday, calling on the Government to ensure that “all eating disorder services are commissioned to provide NICE-recommended treatments for people with binge eating disorder.”

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