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Heartbroken family fear time may be running out for anorexic daughter

Desperate plea for Emma to transfer to a specialist unit

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 21/05/2015

Emma Young
Emma Young
Emma before her anorexia
Emma with her sister Lisa
Emma’s sisters Lisa and Danielle with mum Bernadette at their west Belfast home

The desperate family of a seriously ill woman battling anorexia have made a heartbreaking appeal for help to send their daughter to England to save her life.

The parents and siblings of Emma Young have taken the brave step to speak publicly about their fears that, because of the lack of specialist inpatient care for eating disorders in Northern Ireland, "time is running out".

Emma (22) from west Belfast has been struggling with anorexia nervosa for the past 10 years. But last November she relapsed and was admitted to the Belfast City Hospital weighing just five stone.

After three-and-a-half months being treated in a medical ward and being fed through a tube she was transferred to the psychiatric unit in the city's Mater Hospital.

But her worried sisters Lisa and Danielle says Emma's health is now declining rapidly with treatment "at a standstill".

Her family described how they now feel "helpless" and believe that her only hope is to be moved to a specialist unit in England.

"Time is running out for Emma," Lisa (31) said.

"But she knows she is ill, she wants help and wants to get better, but it doesn't seem she is getting the help she needs.

"She is just basically lying in hospital not eating. Every now and again they come round and put a drip up when her blood sugars are low. She hasn't had any food in about two weeks. She is now just taking sips of water."

Her mother Bernadette (60) said: "We are banging our heads against the brick wall.

"We asked last week for her to be moved because we feel it is making her worse - she shouldn't be in the psychiatric ward. It isn't good for her recovery."

In 2013, 307 adults and 109 young people were treated for eating disorders. About 10 were sent to England for specialist treatment.

However, the cost of sending people to England for treatment is high, about £2m a year for fewer than 10 patients.

In a statement the Department of Health defended service provision and said due to improvements there had been significant reduction in the number of patients being sent outside Northern Ireland for treatment.

"If a patient requires intense specialist treatment for anorexia, trusts can access beds in England, Scotland and the Republic. Developments in local eating disorder services here in recent years have resulted in a significant reduction in the number of patients being sent outside of the region for treatment of eating disorders," a DHSSPS spokesman said.

But Danielle (26) said not enough was being done for her sister. "This has just taken over her life. Emma said to us: 'I'd rather go home and die than die here'. To hear that was just heartbreaking."

Lisa added: "We are not running down the doctors - but this is six months after she took the step into hospital and she is not getting better. we are worried for her life."

Now the family are desperately trying to raise enough money to send her to England. They have set up a charity page, developed #teamEmma wristbands and have arranged a charity night in June.

"We don't understand why there isn't the proper help here for people like Emma," said Lisa.

"The only logical thing to do now would be to transfer Emma to the nearest eating disorder unit. It can cost thousands for the flights and treatment plan. As Northern Ireland has no facilities for eating disorders, it's a matter of life and death that we get Emma to one of these specialist units."

In a direct message to the new Health Minister Simon Hamilton, Lisa said: "Just please help us get her transferred.

"This is not just for Emma, but for everyone in Northern Ireland."

For help and support about eating disorders contact CARED

Telephone: 07999 901 936 Email: Facebook: www.eatingdisorders

How you can help

If you would like to support Emma and the Young family’s appeal visit: or

A charity event will be held on June 26 in The West Club, Belfast.

Eating disorders explained: it’s about more than food

Anyone can develop an eating disorder regardless of age, sex, cultural or racial background, although the people most likely to be affected tend to be young women, particularly between the ages of 15 and 25. Not everyone will have the same symptoms.

Anorexia nervosa means loss of appetite for nervous reasons, but this is misleading because in reality the person has lost the ability to allow themselves to satisfy their appetite. They focus on food in an attempt to cope, not to starve themselves.

Ultimately the disorder itself takes control and the chemical changes in the body affect the brain and distort thinking, making it almost impossible to make rational decisions about food.

The term bulimia nervosa literally means ‘the hunger of an ox’. The hunger, however, is an emotional need.

After binge-eating a large quantity of food to fill the emotional or hunger gap, there is an urge to immediately get rid of the food by vomiting or taking laxatives (or both), or by working off the calories with exercise.

Bulimia is more difficult for others to notice as the person tends not to lose weight so dramatically, or the weight fluctuates.

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