More than 300 young people were treated by Lancashire and South Cumbria Trust for eating disorders as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on the mental health of the nation’s children.
The NHS’ mental health director said the health service has seen “greater numbers than ever before” as figures show a stark national increase in youngsters being treated for potentially life-threatening conditions like anorexia and bulimia.
NHS England data shows 387 children and young people began treatment for eating disorders at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust between July 2020 and June 2021.
That was up from 265 over the same period a year earlier and the 277 seen in 2018-19, before the pandemic hit.
Of the patients who began treatment last year, 182 had been the subject of urgent referrals, compared to 26 the year before and 45 in 2018-19.
NHS rules state 95 per cent of urgent cases must begin treatment within a week, while routinely referred patients should be seen within four weeks.
The figures show Lancashire and South Cumbria Trust saw 56 per cent of urgently referred young people on time, while 89 per cent of other patients started treatment within 28 days.
Tom Quinn, of eating disorder charity Beat, said the pandemic had a “massive impact” on those with eating disorders and their loved ones, adding that it was unsurprising to see cases among young people rising.
He said anxiety, isolation and a lack of support had contributed to people developing disorders for the first time or relapsing, adding: “Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, and accessing specialist help as soon as possible leads to the best chances of making a full recovery.
“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 the NHS than ever before, but demand is increasing at an even faster rate, and it is particularly concerning to see urgent referrals rising.”
NHS England’s mental health director Claire Murdoch said the pandemic had taken its toll on the country’s mental health but that staff had responded rapidly to treat youngsters with eating disorders, with the aid of additional Government funding and the roll out of dedicated services across England.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said eating disorders could have a devastating impact on sufferers and their families, adding that the Government is committed to ensuring young people in need of help get it.
She added: “As part of our Mental Health Recovery Action Plan, we’re investing £79m to expand children’s mental health services and opening up eating disorder services to an extra 2,000 young people.
“Early intervention and treatment is vital.”