Long waits for eating disorders treatment during the ongoing pandemic are putting lives at risk, a senior medic from the Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned.

Dr Agnes Ayton, chair of the college's faculty of eating disorders, said families and medical staff are left to shoulder the burden of knowing patients are deteriorating while they wait for an inpatient bed or psychological treatment.

There are currently 455 adult inpatient beds in the UK for eating disorders and people can face long waits for a space, while some are sent miles from their homes.

Dr Ayton told the PA news agency: “Beds have been reduced in the pandemic due to infection control issues.

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"The vast majority of NHS hospitals, particularly adult services, are all dilapidated buildings and very small rooms.

"During the pandemic, we cannot run to the same level of capacity in hospitals, but this means our list of people waiting for a bed has grown.

"The number of people referred for admission with severe eating disorders is a small proportion... but you're talking about people who are at really high risk of dying or at potential risk of dying."

The Covid-19 pandemic hit the country in March 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic hit the country in March 2020

Before the pandemic, adult patients in Dr Ayton's region, which includes Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Berkshire, would wait ‘three to four weeks depending on urgency for admission, but it's now more than two months’.

She added: "This is even (in patients) with an extremely low BMI (body mass index), and even with potentially life-threatening conditions.

"That puts an enormous pressure on everyone, so obviously on patients and the family, but also staff, who want to help them.

"It is very, very stressful.

"During the pandemic, there's a lot of anxiety and a lot of uncertainty, and there has also been uncertainty about food.

"People have been buying things that may last longer. Some of these foods - like pasta or biscuits - can be trigger food for people who are bingeing or who have bulimia.

"Because of the lockdown, people's social networks and their social support systems have also reduced quite significantly.

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"A lot of public health messages have also been about weight loss and exercise during the pandemic and that has been promoted by the Government because of the risk of obesity and serious Covid.

"But if you are a younger person worrying about your weight and shape, you're bombarded with these messages and think 'I should lose weight'."

Psychiatrists have reported seeing patients who do not think they should be helped because others are more deserving whilst in a pandemic.

Royal College of Psychiatrists is on Prescot Street in London


An NHS spokesperson said: "The NHS is committed to early intervention for the treatment of eating disorders and has made money available for both early pilots and recurrent funding in all parts of the country from this year for community eating disorder services.

"Local areas are receiving year-on-year increases in their funding for community-based mental health throughout the course of the Long Term Plan and all healthcare providers are expected to work together with other local partners to ensure mental health care for adults, including those with eating disorders is expanded and improved."