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Page last updated at 11:25 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009
GPs need more 'anorexia training'

By Tamasin Ford
Newsbeat reporter

Anorexic woman
Eating disorders affect around 1.1 million people in the UK

Nearly nine out of 10 people with eating disorders say their GP didn't know how to help them. That's the finding of a report from the charity, Beat.

It comes days after Gordon Brown admitted to Newsbeat treatment for anorexia wasn't good enough.

Susan Ringwood from Beat says she was shocked at the results of their research.

She said: "We surveyed people in touch with our services and we had 1,500 replies.

"We asked them, 'Do you think your doctor really understood how to help you, did you understand this condition?'

"And only 15% of these families said they felt their GP understood the eating disorder and knew how to help them."

Getting ill

Seventeen-year-old Helen, from Hertfordshire, went down to five stone (31.7kg) before she was admitted into hospital.

She said: "I started becoming ill when I was about 13. The aim was just to become more healthy and then it gradually became more and more obsessive."

Helen went to a GP a year later but her anorexia wasn't spotted.

We think the GPs maybe haven't had very recent training in eating disorders and understanding the signs and symptoms and knowing how to help
Susan Ringwood, Beat
"My family started noticing probably when I was 14. They knew something was up but when I went to the doctor's they said it was just a phase," she said.

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

NHS figures, released last week, show the number of under-16s going to hospital with anorexia in England has almost doubled in a decade.

462 were admitted in one year. While the number of 12-year-olds ending up in hospital with anorexia has risen to 40, almost four times the total 10 years ago.

Helen says she felt like medical services didn't understand. She said: ''Even though there were really obvious signs that things weren't right like I didn't have my periods and things, they put it down to other things.

"It was like they didn't want to admit that was what was wrong."

'Knowledge varies'

The charity, Beat, says the NHS promised a service based on choice, not on chance. Now it says it wants to hold the NHS to its promise.

Susan Ringwood is worried that the level of knowledge about eating disorders varies too much.

She said: "We think the GPs maybe haven't had very recent training in eating disorders and understanding the signs and symptoms and knowing how to help.

Helen Simmons
Helen Simmons went down to five stone before going to hospital
"People who've qualified recently may have, but a lot of GPs simply aren't up to date in this area."

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) guidelines says people with eating disorders should be assessed and receive treatment at the earliest opportunity.

Last week, Gordon Brown told Newsbeat the Government needed to do more to help those people who, sometimes, are not diagnosed properly.

Twenty-year-old Hayley from Suffolk was 15 when she first realised she thought she had a problem.

Hayley's parents managed to persuade her to go to her GP with them.

She said: "I was 5st 13lb (37kg) just before I was 16 and it got a little bit lower than that and that was when I was sent to my GP."

She too says she felt let down by her doctor. "Obviously I was reluctant to go because I doubted I had a problem.

"But when I told her about my feelings about my weight and why I was dieting she just said to me, 'Well, you do look a little bit slim'.

"She asked me to describe my diet to her which I did. She told me I needed to eat more carbohydrates and gain a little bit of weight and it's just a phase.

"That's what she said to my parents, 'Don't worry. It's just a phase. All girls go through it'."

Serious issue

Hayley and Helen's stories are not isolated cases. The majority of people who answered Beat's survey felt their GP didn't understand what they were going through or knew how to help.

Professor Steve Field is from the Royal College of GPs and is also a practising GP himself.

Anorexia: The facts
About 165,000 people in the UK have eating disorders with 10% dying as a result
Most sufferers are women, but one in 10 are men
Around 5% of young girls in the UK are estimated to have anorexia nervosa
Boys and children from ethnic minorities are much less likely to be affected
Only around 60% of anorexics recover
More than 25% of anorexics are so weak that they require hospitalisation
Source: BBC Health Medical Notes
"It's obviously a problem if some patients perceive it to be so, but I can assure you GPs do take these issues very seriously. We know that eating disorders are serious and can have very serious consequences."

He says one of the problems with eating disorders is that sufferers feel no-one understands what they're going through.

He said: "It's not entirely surprising that a lot of patients feel that they're not being understood because that's part of the condition.

"I think the important thing is that we all take this seriously and GPs, I can assure you, do understand the issues and do understand where to refer."

Helen is now doing her A-levels. She's still recovering but says she wanted to speak out about her experience to help other people in similar situations.

She said: "If someone's helped before things get too bad then they're more likely to get better quicker and stay well, even if someone doesn't look really ill or they might not really be that underweight yet.

"If the doctor could see there are these problems then they can get them the help they need straight away."

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