Health Minister Simon Hamilton today announced that he has requested officials to start examining the possibility of establishing a specialist eating disorders unit.
Mr Hamilton said: "Eating disorders are a very serious health issue for many people in our community. One estimate states that between 18,000 and 20,000 individuals will be living with an eating disorder in Northern Ireland at any one time. The effects can be devastating for sufferers, and their families and friends.
"There has been much positive additional investment provided to eating disorder services in the last decade, but I am aware that there is considerable support for a local specialist eating disorders unit. Equally, we need to be sure that any such service would be sustainable in the long term. I have therefore decided that the time is now right to start considering all of the options."
At present, community-based specialist eating disorder services for adults and children are available across all five HSC Trust areas. Inpatient treatment for adults is facilitated in existing hospitals.
Children who require inpatient treatment are usually admitted to Beechcroft in Belfast.
The Minister continued: "The small population size in Northern Ireland has, until now, led officials to conclude that a specialist unit could not be sustained, as the likely number of patients would be relatively low. One key factor for consideration this time will be the increasing number of patients who are transferred to facilities outside of Northern Ireland for specialist eating disorders treatment.
"This is why I have asked officials to start the process of looking at the evidence and engaging with the relevant stakeholders to examine the possibility of creating such a unit."
Notes to editors:
1. Eating disorder services are provided through a stepped care approach which ranges from early detection and intervention, to community-based treatment, to specialist inpatient provision.
2. A total of £2million is allocated to specialist eating disorder services every year. This has been the case since 2008/09. This figure does not include inpatient care or the cost of treatment for eating disorders provided outside Northern Ireland.
3. Across Northern Ireland there are 39 (whole time equivalent) funded specialist eating disorders practitioners, covering children’s and adult services. These include consultant psychiatrists, eating therapists and dieticians. This compares with a figure of less than one (whole time equivalent) practitioner in 2005.
4. The Belfast Trust provides eating disorder services for the South Eastern Trust area.
5. In a relatively few cases, a patient may require more intense specialist treatment for anorexia, which is not available in Northern Ireland, and Trusts can access beds in England, Scotland and Ireland through the Extra Contractual Referral (ECR) process. Recent figures are as follows:
Year - No of ECRs for eating disorders
- 2012/13 - 8
- 2013/14 - 11
- 2014/15 - 15
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