The number of admissions to hospital for eating disorders has nearly doubled in six years, according to the latest NHS figures.
However, experts fear the rise is not representative of the true number of sufferers, but only those forced by the disorder to check into hospital, and labelled the data ‘the tip of the iceberg’.
Data from NHS Digital shows admissions for conditions including anorexia and bulimia reached 13,885 between April 2016 and 2017.
This is almost double the 7,260 admissions seen in hospitals in England the year up to April 2011.
The number of under-18 female admissions for anorexia has also jumped dramatically in the six-year period, from 961 in 2010-11, to almost 1,904 in the latest figures.
The Government said it is aiming to provide treatment within one week for 95 per cent of children and young people referred for urgent cases of an eating disorder by 2020.
Responding to the NHS figures, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We are committed to ensuring everyone with an eating disorder has access to timely treatment.
‘We know the numbers seeking treatment are rising and it’s encouraging to see an increase in patients getting routine care within four weeks, as well as a significant improvement in treatment times compared to last year.
‘Inpatient treatment should be seen as a last resort, that’s why we have set out plans to expand community-based care for eating disorders – 70 dedicated community eating disorders services are being developed and recruitment to get the teams up to full capacity is under way.’
Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at Beat, said part of the reason for the uptick may not be because more people are developing these disorders, but because the resources to tackle eating disorders are insufficient at the community level.
‘Hospital admissions for eating disorders only show the tip of the iceberg and so cannot be used to establish whether the number of people with an eating disorder is increasing or decreasing.
‘Many others will be either undiagnosed, receiving outpatient treatment or no treatment at all.
‘The rise in admissions could show an increase in awareness or bed availability, but we are concerned that more people are accessing this intensive treatment, reserved usually for the most severe cases, as it could indicate that outpatient treatment provision is not strong enough.’
Quinn says that it is vital that those who need help receive it prior to the disorder getting so bad it requires a trip to hospital.
‘While inpatient services should be available for those who need them it is vital that intervention is sought early and that local community services are funded appropriately.
‘If sustained investment in early intervention is forthcoming then the number of patients needing an inpatient admission will reduce significantly.
‘Accessing effective treatment as early as possible once symptoms appear gives individuals the best chance of full recovery,’ he said.