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222% increase in eating disorder patients treated under section

The number of patients in England with eating disorders being treated under section has risen at an alarming rate over the last five years - according to new research from UEA and eating disorder charity Beat.

Since 2008, 86 per cent of eating disorder units in England have witnessed a rise in the number of patients treated under section.

On a national scale, the number of sectioned patients on eating disorder units has risen by 222 per cent.

The research was led by Dr Richard Sly from UEA’s School of Health Sciences. He contacted 51 specialist NHS Mental Health Trusts in England about their eating disorder patient admissions.

The study found that one in five patients admitted to hospital for an eating disorder are being treated under section.

It also revealed that 54 per cent of patients in one major national unit were treated under section in 2014 – a rise from four per cent in 2008.

Dr Sly said: “If patients are not provided with the appropriate level of care, at a time when they need it, anorexia nervosa can be a life threatening illness. Indeed, the mortality rates for those with anorexia surpass those of any other mental illness.

“Being treated under section in essence is individuals being treated against their will. This can mean that at times, when deemed necessary by the clinical team, these patients may be forcibly tube fed by staff which can be traumatic for all involved – patients and staff alike - and it can often have the reverse effect of strengthening food avoidance.

“Nurses who carry out these interventions have spoken about feeling highly distressed and burnt out as a result.

“For patients, this is an additional trauma to endure as it is for their families and friends who bear witness to the impact of these events.

“For healthcare trusts, these more intensive treatment interventions require more financial resources - the irony being that patients were most likely left to deteriorate in the community because of a lack of financial resources in the first place.”

Beat’s chief operating officer Lorna Garner said: “The evidence from this research should be ringing alarm bells – more people are getting to a point where their lives are considered at risk or where community care is ineffective.

“Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and those diagnosed need specialist treatment at the earliest possible opportunity and for the right length of time. These statistics demonstrate that patients are either being discharged too early from their first episode of treatment, or that they are not being given the treatment they need early enough.”

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