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6% of eating disorder patients admitted to hospital have received specialist care since 2018

46 patients have received treatment in the dedicated eating disorder service at St Vincent’s University Hospital in the last five years.

Image: Shutterstock/Rocketclips, Inc.

6% OF ADULTS who were admitted to hospital with an eating disorder in the last five years received public specialist inpatient treatment in a dedicated eating disorder service, according to new HSE figures. 

Since 2018, 718 adults have been admitted to hospital with a primary admission diagnosis of eating disorders.

Of these patients, only 46 received inpatient treatment in the specialist Eating Disorder Service at St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) in Dublin - the location of the only three dedicated inpatient beds for adults in the country.

The figures were released by the HSE to Sinn Féin mental health spokesperson Mark Ward through a parliamentary question.

Ward has described the figures as “an absolute failure of the State”.

“Eating disorders are the most fatal of all mental health conditions,” he said.

“There is a lack of inpatient beds for adults needing treatment for eating disorders. Currently, there are just three inpatient public beds available in Ireland, in St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin. This is completely unacceptable.”

Ellen Jennings, Communications Officer at Bodywhys, told The Journal: ‘The figures support the need for national specialist services, both inpatient and community, to reduce the numbers of people being admitted to inpatient in a general mental health inpatient facility.”

The Department of Health estimates that up to 180,000 people in Ireland are affected by eating disorders, with up to 1,800 new cases occurring each year.

Young people are especially affected, with an average onset age of 15.

In February, figures released from the adult eating disorder team in SVUH “saw referral numbers to the service surge by over 120% on the previous year”.

The total number of referrals received by the SVUH team rose from 65 in 2020 to 144 in 2021, with the number of referrals accepted rising from 39 in 2020 to 105 last year.

Figures released by the National Clinical Programme for Eating Disorders (NCPED) in March showed that waiting times to access specialist eating disorder care had increased over the last three years.

Over 90% of people were assessed by the three specialist HSE community teams within eight weeks of referral in 2019. However, this dropped to 73% in 2021. 

The same trend occurred in treatment waiting times with over 90% accessing treatment within eight weeks of assessment in 2019, with a drop to 72% in 2021.

Research in the Irish Medical Journal last year reported a 66% increase in hospital admissions for eating disorders in 2020 compared to the previous year.

“Since 2018, 676 adults who have an eating disorder diagnosis and require inpatient care have been referred to the HSE’s acute inpatient mental health-approved centres,” Ward said.

“Patients admitted to these facilities do not receive the specialist multidisciplinary help they need for eating disorders.”

People who have contacted me spoke about how their loved ones were admitted until their body mass index (BMI) was increased to a safe level and then they are released.

“Because they did not receive the specialist multidisciplinary help they need they often relapse and find themselves re-admitted to a non-specialist mental health service. It is like a revolving door,” he said.

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The HSE’s model of care for eating disorder services states that 23 dedicated psychiatric inpatient beds are needed in order to deliver inpatient care to the number of people who require inpatient psychiatric treatment.

“The HSE has plans to increase adult inpatient capacity to 23 beds across the state but there is no urgency,” Ward said.

“We need to see these beds opened as a priority.”

The HSE and the Department of Health were contacted for comment. 

Help is available from:

  • Bodywhys: 01 210 7906 (opening hours) or email alex@bodywhys.ie (eating disorders)
  • HSE Eating Disorder Self Care App (information on eating disorders)
  • CARED Ireland: email caredireland@gmail.com (group of parents and carers of people with eating disorders)
  • Samaritans: 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie 
  • Aware: 1800 80 48 48 or email supportmail@aware.ie (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House: 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Childline: 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s) 
  • Teenline: 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18) 

About the author:

Jane Moore

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