Published: 06:00, 14 July 2020
A woman struggling with anorexia for six years is concerned how long she and others will be made to wait for treatment, after being told the person at the top of the waiting list had been assessed in August last year.
Now 20, she said: "For the past two years it's got worse, and especially during lockdown it got really bad.
"I would have panic attacks all the time and feel so scared, and it just got to the point where I thought, 'I can't carry on doing this.'"
After finding support through her GP unhelpful in her teen years, Kirsty decided to seek help from the North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) which includes a specialist all-ages eating disorder service in Maidstone.
The NELFT websites states they will aim to offer an appointment to prospective patients within four weeks of applying.
Kirsty was assessed in just a week, but when cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was decided as a treatment plan, she was told she could be left waiting for much longer.
She was not told how many people were in front of her on the waiting list, but a member of staff said the person right at the top had been assessed in August 2019.
She said: "I didn't really know what to say to them when they told me.
"It makes me angry - I think it's ridiculous that you have to wait such a long time to get help for something like this, which could just change overnight.
"I could have been in the mind set that this is them telling me I'm not sick enough, even though that's not what they said.
"If I was in a bad place that's how I could have interpreted it, it could have ended completely differently and I could have gone backwards. I'm worried that's what other people are going to do."
"I think it's ridiculous that you do have to wait such a long time to get help for something like this..."
She added: "I don't want other people to feel alone and to suffer like I have in the past."
Kirsty has been able to access private counselling support through her workplace in the meantime, but her worry is for other people having to wait who do not have that option.
She said: "A lot of people don't have that access, I know there's GPs but it takes a lot of guts to go to a GP and talk to them about it.
"I felt that they didn't understand me and followed certain stigmas, that you have to tick boxes to fit into a criteria."
Kirsty said whilst she waits she has also taken advantage of chat rooms hosted by eating disorder charity Beat.
The charity has spoken out about the importance of people suffering with eating disorders are given access to treatment as quickly as possible.
Tom Quinn, Beat's director of external affairs, said: "Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses and there is an urgent need for better service provision for those affected.
"It already takes nearly three years, on average, for someone to realise they have an eating disorder and visit a GP, and a severe lack of services means they are often unable to access the treatment they need.
"The sooner someone gets help for an eating disorder, the better their chances of making a full and sustained recovery, with lower costs to the NHS.
"Whilst we appreciate the additional strain placed on services in recent months due to the pandemic, we believe there is a real need for increased investment to ensure everyone who needs treatment can get it."
"The sooner someone gets help for an eating disorder, the better their chances of making a full and sustained recovery..."
NELFT declined to comment on the current length of waiting times for access to treatment through the trust.
Brid Johnson, NELFT's director of operations for Essex and Kent, added: "To ensure we provide the right care at the right time for patients who are referred for treatment from our eating disorder service in Kent and Medway, we conduct a clinical triage straight away to identify the need of the patient and determine the urgency of a clinical assessment.
"We carry out this assessment within four weeks or, if the case is more urgent, within seven days. If the clinical risk and urgency are deemed high when we triage, we will conduct a crisis intervention within four hours.
"After the assessment, our care begins straight away as we allocate all patients with a key worker who provides them with the support they need. This can include group sessions, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and other therapy, all in accordance to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) standards and regulations.
"If a patient requires more comprehensive care or treatment, their key worker will continue working with them and ensure they are fully supported before this begins."
In a CQC report published in September 2019 the trust was given an overall "requires improvement" rating.
The report stated that waiting list times were a particular concern in Kent for children accessing mental health support.
It read: "The community mental health services for children and young people in Kent still had some significant waiting lists.
"Across Kent, there were 4,143 young people at the end of May 2019 who had been waiting over 16 weeks for treatment following referral."
The report was however awarded "good" ratings overall in the effective, responsive and caring categories.
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