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Family's anguish over Emma Young anorexia fight

By Victoria O'Hara

A heartbroken family have said they fear their daughter - who has spent almost six months battling anorexia in hospital - is now being "left to die".

Emma Young (22), from west Belfast, has been struggling with the potentially deadly eating disorder for the past 10 years.

Last December she relapsed and was admitted to hospital weighing just five stone.

In May, the Young family told the Belfast Telegraph about their fears that, because of the lack of specialist in-patient care for eating disorders in Northern Ireland, "time is running out".

They appealed for her to be transferred to a specialist unit in England.

Now, a month later, her brother John has said her condition has deteriorated.

"She is still in the Mater - that's almost six months she has been in hospital," he said.

"In the last two weeks she has had a feeding tube refitted. We realised that nothing is really being done in the hospital. They are not really treating the cause properly which is a psychiatric condition. That is something she is still not receiving. The longer she lies there without the help - her body is disintegrating."

The family have written to Health Minister Simon Hamilton pleading for help in having Emma transferred.

But John (24) said they had still not received any firm news.

"The message we are getting back is that is that it is urgently referred to the Trust," he said.

"But it's a wall of silence as to what is going to happen," he said.

John, a consultant with PWC, added that his mother, father and sisters were all determined to fight on to get Emma help.

"It seems we are background noise to the bigger problem which is agreeing welfare reform. Obviously what we are asking costs a lot and is probably something that we could never fund ourselves. But where they are investing the money at the minute they have no in-patient facilities. It is not helping Emma."

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.

John believes the current way patients with eating disorders are treated in Northern Ireland needs to be changed.

"It has been described to me as a 'revolving door policy' and I agree with it. Their goal is to get you up to a weight so they can discharge you and you are no longer the problem for them. But what happens then is that the person's weight goes back down again because they are not treating the cause at all or help them develop the skills to get over the eating disorder."

He said the family has been left heartbroken and feeling helpless watching Emma's health decline.

"The concerns that Emma could die are very real. There are good medical staff there, but the problem is they aren't specifically trained to treat eating disorders.

"Even if Emma gets the help finally now and can recover as best she can that doesn't mean this has not had a detrimental impact on her health. Her mental wellbeing is key here. She just feels that no one is listening -no one cares."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The minister has received correspondence from the Young family and from elected representatives, concerning Ms Young and responses have been issued.

"The minister will consider the further invitation from the family to meet, but recognises it would not be appropriate for the department to discuss an individual's case or for him to interfere in the clinical decisions of specialists."

The statement said eating Disorder Services are provided by specialist community-based teams in each Health & Social Care (HSC) Trust area.

"There are now around 39 (whole time equivalent) funded specialist Eating Disorders practitioners across children's and adult services. . A total of £2m per annum is allocated to specialist Eating Disorder Services, and this has been the case since 2008-9."

  • To support Emma, visit:
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