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More facilities needed for anorexia patients, urges eating disorder survivor

By Victoria O'Hara

A woman who survived the same life-threatening eating disorder as a west Belfast patient seriously ill with anorexia has spoken of the urgent need for greater specialist care here.

Debbie Howard (32) from Bangor, Co Down, was an international rhythmic gymnast and represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in 1998.

She battled anorexia from the age of 12 until her mid-20s. At her lowest point she weighed just five-and-a-half stone and was close to heart failure.

The mother-of-one had to be treated in London because of the lack of specialist services available in Northern Ireland.

She says that despite some developments, almost 10 years after she was treated "severe and vulnerable" sufferers were still being sent outside the province for treatment. Debbie, who co-founded the charity Caring About Recovery from Eating Disorders (CARED), added that there was still a severe lack of counselling and pyschotheraphy on offer.

Her comments come after the Belfast Telegraph reported the heartbreaking appeal by the family of 22-year-old Emma Young, who is being treated in the Mater's psychiatric unit for anorexia. Like Debbie, Emma weighed just five-and-a-half stone when admitted to hospital last December.

Emma's sisters Lisa and Danielle are now desperately fundraising to send her to England for care at a specialist unit.

Danielle said: "Emma said to us: 'I'd rather go home and die than die here'. To hear that was just heartbreaking."

Debbie said: "When the most severe cases of eating disorders are hospitalised they are often put in any ward there is a bed - general psychiatric wards, renal wards, general medical wards.

"One of the biggest frustrations reported by the parents who contact CARED is that, when hospitalised, there is no specialised eating disorder staff or treatment, and the main focus seems to be on weight restoration, without any therapeutic intervention or support."

Debbie said this created a "revolving door pattern", where sufferers eat to get out of hospital, then resume the eating disordered behaviours and end up back in hospital.

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

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. For help visit CARED website or

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph