Words: Ellen Kenny
Out of the 718 adults diagnosed with an eating disorder since 2018, forty six have received inpatient care with the specialist Eating Disorder Service at St Vincent’s University Hospital.
St. Vincent’s University Hospital is the only hospital in Ireland with dedicated inpatient beds for patients with eating disorders. It has three beds.
These figures were released by the HSE to Mark Ward TD, the Sinn Féin spokesperson for mental health.
Ward raised these findings in parliamentary questions yesterday, describing them as “an absolute failure of the State.”
“Eating disorders are the most fatal of all mental health conditions.”
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 particularly vulnerable, with the average onset of fifteen years old.
The HSE findings come at the worst time possible for those suffering from eating disorders. According to the National Clinical Programme for Eating Disorders, waiting times to access specialist treatment have steadily increased in the last three years. While over ninety percent of people were assessed by specialists within eight weeks of referral in 2019, that figure dropped to seventy three percent in 2021.
Further figures released by St. Vincent’s University Hospital reported a 120 per cent increase in referrals to their eating disorder treatment facilities in 2021.
Ward reported that patients with eating disorders are now typically referred to the HSE’s acute mental health centres, where they “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,” he explained.
“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.”
Since 2018, just €137,000, or three percent of the HSE’s budget, was allocated to eating disorders. In 2021, the HSE reported that the entire amount of last year’s development funding for eating disorder services was used to cover other areas of mental health provision.
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