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Health: Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa

Volume 747: debated on Thursday 11 July 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are taking steps to ensure that those suffering from mental health disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa are receiving the most appropriate care; and what provisions exist for urgent cases, particularly those of 17 to 18 year-olds.

My Lords, early intervention is essential for those with eating disorders. We have been clear that GPs are expected to use guidance produced by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—NICE—when choosing the most appropriate treatments, from physical and psychological treatments to medicines. The NICE guidance is due for review in January 2014.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. Does he recognise that talking therapies are more effective for treating eating disorders, yet to date there is no legal right to receive talking therapies, as there is for drugs? Recent figures outline that more people than previously are waiting longer than the targeted access time of 28 days to receive those therapies, especially those under 18. In fact, the figures show that those under 18 are sometimes referred to mental hospitals rather than being given such therapy at the time. I respect the fact that the Government have committed to make measurable progress by March 2015 to parity of esteem, and that they cannot make any commitments before that. However, I am concerned that there appears to be no monitoring of this situation. The fact that this is urgent does not seem to be taken on board and many young people under 18 are suffering.

My Lords, the mental health of children and young people is a major priority for the Government. Half of those with lifetime mental illness first experience symptoms by the age of 14 and three-quarters before their mid-20s. That is precisely why we are investing a large sum of money—£54 million—over the four-year period 2011-15 in the Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme. We know, as the noble Baroness rightly emphasises, that those talking therapies can make the most difference, particularly if early intervention is achieved.

My Lords, is it not so that very often parents do not realise what is happening to their child? As for cancer or any other condition, early diagnosis is the secret. What can be done to speed that up? When I was chairman of a hospital, we had a whole ward full of people with this problem, but their condition had been recognised too late and therefore treatment was extremely difficult.

My noble friend is absolutely right. However, it is encouraging to see that in recent years a range of information and support has become available. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has published a fact sheet on eating disorders, which is aimed not just at the profession but particularly at parents, teachers and young people themselves. It is called Mental Health and Growing Up. The fact sheet discusses the causes of eating disorders, how to recognise them and gives advice on how to cope with a child who has an eating disorder.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl accepts that some young girls have an eating disorder that is not anorexia or bulimia—they may have CFS/ME or reactions to HPV vaccines. Very often, they are incarcerated in mental hospitals when they should receive a different form of treatment. I have spoken to the noble Earl about this but perhaps he could say what progress is being made in ensuring that such young people are not mistreated?

My Lords, I am sure that this is an area that NICE will need to look at when it refreshes its guidance to the clinical community. The noble Countess is absolutely right to raise the issue. CFS/ME can often be misdiagnosed; it can be mistaken for other conditions without proper differential diagnosis having taken place. We know that there is more work to be done in this area. However, the range of programmes now available to GPs, some of which I have referred to, can be helpful in this area.

My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my health interests in the register. Perhaps I can take the noble Earl back to my noble friend’s question. She mentioned “parity of esteem”, which of course the House legislated for in the 2012 health and social care legislation. Could he tell the House how the Government intend to ensure parity of esteem, particularly ensuring that mental health services are given their fair share of resources in the health service? How do the Government intend to take that forward?

My Lords, I do not wish to duck the fact that this is a very difficult area to define. We all know that we want to achieve parity of esteem. It depends on ensuring not only that mental health services are given their fair share of the budget but that the right treatments are delivered to the right people, and that everyone in the country has access to appropriate treatments. We are currently firming up with NHS England what the right metrics are in order to judge whether they have met that aim. I will write to the noble Lord with the latest news on that front.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware of the growing trend for eating disorder clinics and hospitals to treat much younger children and, indeed, boys with eating disorders. Given this, what additional steps does the Minister think need to be taken to ensure that everyone involved—children’s services, primary schools and others—are spotting these signs, particularly in boys, where stigma is often attached to acknowledging these things, to ensure that effective treatment is quickly available?

My noble friend is absolutely right. The figures that I have before me show that by far the largest number of cases occurs in the age group 10 to 17. We are working on raising awareness of mental health problems, including eating disorders, and on providing support in schools. Particularly, we have provided £3 million of funding over two years to the BOND Consortium, which is led by YoungMinds. The aim of that is to build capacity in the voluntary sector to support the access that schools have to local services. We are also producing an e-portal tool for children’s and young people’s mental health, which we hope will be delivered next year.