Page last updated at 09:11 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

GPs 'failing on eating disorders'

Woman eyeing up cake
Many say they do not get badly needed help and support from professionals

GPs in England are failing to help people with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, a report warns.

The charity Beat found only 15% of patients felt their GP understood their disorders, or knew how to help them.

Some patients said they suspected that their doctor did not take their problems seriously.

A leading GP said doctors were skilled at treating eating disorders, but often patients took a long time to admit their problems.

People affected by eating disorders still aren't getting the treatment and support they need
Beat chief executive Susan Ringwood
The report comes after figures showed an 80% rise in the number of young girls admitted to hospital with anorexia in England over the last decade.

Eating disorders are estimated to affect more than 1.1 million people in the UK.

Based on a survey of 1,500 people with eating disorders, the report found many thought their GP lacked knowledge about treatments, or how to access them.

Regional variations

It praised national guidelines on treatment, but said implementation varied across the country.

It concluded that the odds were stacked against patients making a recovery.

The report highlights examples of patients who were treated poorly by their GP.

One young person was told to "go home and eat a burger", and another was told that they were just going through "a phase".

Beat chief executive Susan Ringwood praised Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has acknowledged action is required to improve diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders.

However, she added: "Despite these positive signs we are aware that people affected by eating disorders still aren't getting the treatment and support they need."

Helen, 17, from Puckeridge in Hertfordshire, spent five months in hospital with anorexia. At one point her weight dropped to five stone (31.75kg).

She said: "One doctor said it was because I had glandular fever and another one said it was just depression.

"But another doctor said to my parents that I could have gone to sleep and not woken up any night."

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors, on the whole, were doing an excellent job.

But he said the provision of specialist secondary services was patchy.

And he said many patients often went to their doctor several times before fully opening up about their problems.

He said: "It's not very often that the patient comes to the GP and says 'I've got an eating disorder'.

"But doctors do know what they are doing and the signs to look out for and patients should be reassured of this."

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