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Ill Emma's family hail news Northern Ireland may get own eating disorders clinic

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 08/10/2015

Emma's mum Bernie and sisters Lisa and Danielle
Emma's mum Bernie and sisters Lisa and Danielle
Emma Young

The family of a woman battling anorexia have welcomed moves to open a specialist eating disorders unit in Northern Ireland.

During a short reinstatement as Health Minister, Simon Hamilton yesterday announced he had asked the department to examine if such a unit could be opened.

Northern Ireland currently has no inpatient specialist facilities.

In 2013, 307 adults and 109 young people were treated, and about 10 were sent to England for specialist attention.

Mr Hamilton said the rising number of patients being transferred to England had directly led to the announcement.

Campaigners and the family of Emma Young welcomed the move as a "positive step".

The 22-year-old from west Belfast, who weighed around five stone when admitted to hospital, spent almost nine months on a ward.

Her parents and siblings, who feared she was being "left to die", launched a campaign to have her transferred to another part of the UK with a specialist unit because the appropriate help was unavailable in Northern Ireland.

She was moved to Scotland around two weeks ago.

Her brother John told the Belfast Telegraph that while he welcomed the move, it still had to be implemented.

"This seems like it is something positive and a step in the right direction to try and help treat people with eating disorders," he said.

"It is ridiculous that people have had to move to another country to get treatment away from loved ones, so anything that can help prevent that has to be good.

"I just hope that the charities and people who have been involved in raising awareness and treatment, and the families affected by this form of mental illness, are involved in any plans.

"Given the current political situation, I hope that this isn't just an announcement that then (becomes) a plan that is lost or that the finances cannot be found."

It is estimated that between 18,000 and 20,000 people here will be living with an eating disorder at any one time.

Mr Hamilton said the service had to be "sustainable in the long-term".

He added: "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 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."

In 2005 there was one eating disorder practitioner in Northern Ireland. Today, there are 39 funded specialist eating disorders practitioners, covering children's and adult services. These include consultant psychiatrists, eating therapists and dieticians.

At present community-based specialist eating disorder services for adults and children are available across all five trust areas.

Inpatient treatment for adults is facilitated in existing hospitals. Children who require inpatient treatment are usually admitted to Beechcroft in Belfast.

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