beatA charity has called on the government to do more to help people with eating disorders after finding a quarter of those with an eating condition wait more than 6 months to be treated.

Currently an 18-week target time applies to all NHS services looking after those with a physical health issue but eating disorder charity Beat says people with eating disorders are often being left on waiting lists for treatment for too long.

Beat surveyed 331 people with eating disorders in August 2013 about their treatment. It found that 30% of people waited longer than 18 weeks to access outpatient treatment, 26% had a wait of longer than 6 months and 8% longer than a year.

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, said this makes their conditions worse and in some cases can even lead to death.

"Eating disorders are fatal in up to 20% of cases," she told the BBC. "That's the highest death rate of any mental illness.

"We know that when people have to wait a long time for treatment, their illness can get worse. In the most serious cases, people's lives can be lost.

"We want clear waiting times to be set, so people can know when their treatment is going to start."

Responding to the survey, Care Services Minister Norman Lamb insisted the government wants mental health patients, including those with eating disorders, to be treated equally with patients with physical problems.

"In mental health, we don't even know how long people are waiting," he said. "That's why this survey is of great value, because it demonstrates the seriousness of the problem.

"I want to get to a point where, by 2015, we introduce access standards, so that people know how long they should be expected to wait as a maximum. I don't know whether I will achieve it yet, but I'm determined to try to secure that."

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