Almost £1million will be invested to help improve the east and west Suffolk Eating Disorder Service following a huge rise in referrals heightened by the pandemic.
The agreement to invest £932,000 will enable the recruitment of 15 new patient-facing posts with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, and the commissioning of more support services from charities, including Wednesday’s Child and Beat.
The move — agreed by the governing bodies of NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups — is part of a bigger review, with plans to overhaul the entire eating disorder pathway.
For now the focus is on the urgent need to address capacity issues and the lengthened waiting times.
Debbie Watson, founder and director of eating disorder organisation, Wednesday’s Child, said "it feels really significant" to be working in collaboration with statutory services in Suffolk.
She said: "As someone who has a lived experience of the illness, to now be part of the solution feels amazing.
"We can't just rely on statutory services alone anymore, voluntary sector organisations such as ours have so much to offer so to work together is really exciting.
"At Wednesday's Child our referral rates are up 100% on this time last year, and the breadth of person we are assisting couldn't be more diverse.
"We are currently helping a solicitor who has secret bulimia and a nurse who has been working on the frontline, with her exhaustion triggering the return of an eating disorder she had at 14."
Miss Watson said it feels like the "floodgates have opened" and people are coming forward, but they need to be seen quicker.
She said: "It is devastating as the number of people with eating disorders is rising, but it does mean people are reaching out for help and are open to having a conversation despite the stigma attached.
"Early intervention is so important and the earlier people get support the better. So this funding is so important."
Dr Imran Qureshi, a Leiston GP and mental health lead at NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG, said: “The Eating Disorder Service team is working incredibly hard to ensure everyone who needs support receives it as quickly as possible.
“Yet, we know that because of the big increase in demand from people of all ages, they are struggling and people are having to wait too long. We need to address that urgently and have committed to doing so.”
Earlier this year, Miss Watson said children as young as seven were among those who have been referred to under-pressure eating disorder support services in Suffolk in the past year, with numbers doubling since the start of Covid.
In the latest board papers from Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), it was revealed just 25% of patients under 19 who were deemed in need of 'urgent' care were being seen within the guideline one week time frame - against a target of 84%.
James Cartlidge, MP for South Suffolk, said he is "delighted" the CCGs have approved what he called "significant" funding.
"Some of my most challenging constituency cases have involved young people suffering in this debilitating way," he said.
"Only last week in the Queen’s Speech debate on health I set out my long-standing belief that we should be seeking to divert NHS funding directly to our local mental health charities, who in my experience can make a real difference to those struggling with the wide range of mental health conditions.
"Combined with the investment in personality disorders and mental health practitioners to support our ambulance service, this shows a real determination from our CCGs to address the wider mental health challenge that is likely to have been significantly exacerbated by Covid-19 lockdown.
"I hope that this package can bring genuine relief to some of my most vulnerable constituents”.
The aim of the funding is to provide immediate support to children, young people and adults who are waiting for assessment and treatment by the Eating Disorder Service.
Published by the East Anglian Daily Times.