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Just go home and eat: GP's advice for eating disorder girl

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 19/12/2015

In October Health Minister Simon Hamilton announced he had asked his department to examine if a specialist unit could be opened here
In October Health Minister Simon Hamilton announced he had asked his department to examine if a specialist unit could be opened here

A GP told the parents of an 11-year-old girl with an eating disorder to take her and "go home and eat", it has been revealed.

The incident was disclosed as the health watchdog published a review into the standards of eating disorder services here.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) said the issue was a "growing problem" and made 11 recommendations to improve services.

It also said the Health and Social Care Board should undertake a feasibility study to determine if a specialist eating disorders unit should be established here.

The RQIA added that a potential option would be for such a unit to be established on an all-Ireland basis.

There are no specialist inpatient facilities for treating eating disorders in Northern Ireland.

Among the issues highlighted by the RQIA was a lack of awareness, support and communication from GPs and others.

During the review the watchdog held a series of focus groups with adults and young people with an eating disorder and their families. One said: "There is no consistency whatsoever. (A bad GP) can be hell".

And in another worrying example, the parents of an 11-year-old girl - referred to only as X - were told to just take their daughter home and feed her.

"After noticing some behavioural issues around food, we took X to see a GP in December 2013," the family told investigators.

"Having tried to examine X, the GP printed out a body mass index graph and told her to go home and eat, and the GP would see us again in three months.

"We dropped X off to school, then came home and rang the doctor because we weren't satisfied with the off-hand way that X was treated.

"The GP didn't think there was a problem. The exact words to us were: 'If you make an issue of this, it will become an issue'."

RQIA chief executive Glenn Houston said: "Given the increase noted in the numbers of younger people presenting with eating disorders, staff require information about how best to respond to their needs.

"Good-quality information and booklets for young people explaining eating disorders are available. However, adult patients and carers told us that finding out more about eating disorders can be difficult, with many sourcing information from the internet."

In October Health Minister Simon Hamilton announced he had asked his department to examine if a specialist unit could be opened here.

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

Since there is no specialist facility for treating eating disorders in Northern, inpatient treatment for adults is carried out in hospitals. Children who require inpatient treatment are usually admitted to the Beechcroft mental health unit, on the outskirts of Belfast.

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