Family mealAn eating disorder specialist has called for more help at mealtimes for the families of young people suffering from anorexia nervosa following the Government's recent investment in child mental health.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg pledged £150 million of funding to help children with eating disorders just before Christmas in order to counter the rise in admissions for eating disorders through preventative therapy.

However, Martin Davies, who leads the specialist mental health services for independent sector health and social care provider Care UK, said it’s vital that the money is used in the right way.

Whilst welcoming the announcement, he was concerned that the money should be channelled in the right direction. He said: “Earlier and easier access to psychological therapies is an important and worthwhile aim, but the difficulty with anorexia nervosa is that the physical impact of extreme weight loss results in such a deterioration in cognitive functioning that the sufferer finds it very difficult to benefit from or even use these therapies.

“Expert support and advice around food and meals must take centre stage if we are to stop the serious impact on physical health and wellbeing of not having enough to eat.

“However at present there’s a critical lack of resource in community-based teams – there are just not enough people to go round. Weekly talk therapy is one thing, and being able to address waiting times in this area is important, but providing support to people with a condition and their families at meal times – day in day out – is where resource is distinctly lacking.

“Prevention of eating disorders is extremely difficult and expensive. My concern would be that £150 million over five years is insufficient to make the differences the government targets.”

Recently, the Health Select Committee revealed that child and adolescent mental health services were struggling to cope in many parts of the country due to cuts and frozen budgets along with increasing demand. This has led to teenagers being treated on adult wards or being cared for hundreds of miles from their homes. Mr Clegg said he wants services to be transformed, shifting from expensive institutional care, to targeted community-based care.

Davies added: “Access to expert talk therapy is what makes the long term difference. Extreme weight loss brings about hospitalisation and when this occurs it’s tragic that there are insufficient beds to go round and that children are forced to travel hundreds of miles to receive treatment. This makes it very difficult for families to participate in the regular family therapy that is the treatment of choice in many young cases.

“Perhaps crucial to prevention is psycho-education in schools, for parents, and for GPs to recognise the signs early on. It’s too easy for the first signs of anorexia to be dismissed or go unnoticed, and for concern to be lacking until the condition has become established. By then, talk therapies and community support is often too little, too late.

“What’s encouraging about this announcement is the recognition that children and young people need and deserve to be treated as equals in the quest for adequate mental healthcare funding.”