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Medway 'unlikely' to get eating disorder unit in the Towns

A lack of money means an eating disorder unit is unlikely to be set in Kent.

Patients – both adults and children – from Medway currently have to travel as far as Brighton for specialist beds, while "non-complex" disorders are dealt with in Staplehurst.

Medway Council’s health and adult social care committee raised concerns about the distance family and friends need to travel to support loved ones, and asked if a unit could be based nearer to home.

66 people in Medway are being treated for eating disorders Picture: Thinkstock Image Library
66 people in Medway are being treated for eating disorders Picture: Thinkstock Image Library

Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con) said: “I’m very concerned there seems to be very little care for Medway. I do think we need services in Medway because the numbers are adding up.

“When you’re talking about children as young as eight suffering, this is something that’s going to escalate. I’m sitting here and alarm bells are ringing.

“I would like something in Medway. We have a lot of problems in Medway, and by having the right services here it will help Medway people – and that’s what we’re here for.”

Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab) described the situation as a “ticking time bomb”, with the disorder “ruining a lot of relationships, intensifying day-to-day stress levels, and being with people for all of their life”.

Commissioners accepted they “perhaps don’t give enough attention” to patient and family transport, and vowed to assess how they can work with NHS England to improve the infrastructure.

But North East London NHS Foundation Trust, which operates the all-age eating disorder service in Kent and Medway, admitted it was unlikely the request for a unit will be met with a positive response.

Director of operations Brid Johnson told councillors: “I couldn’t sit here and say that we’ll be able to afford really specialist beds in small areas.

“The complexity of need of young people who end up in those beds requires such a wide range of service provision that it becomes more affordable when it covers (a larger area).

“You would only need a small number of beds for this area, so we’ll do our very best to get as close to you as possible. But what I couldn’t guarantee is that it will be in Medway because it probably wouldn’t be affordable.”

“I couldn’t sit here and say that we’ll be able to afford really specialist beds in small areas..." Brid Johnson

Nearly 100 Medway residents were referred to the all-age eating disorder service between April 2018 and March 2019, with the current caseload said to stand at 66 people.

Only five of these are men, who are typically more unlikely to accept they have a problem.

This number was questioned by Cllr McDonald at the meeting and said it does not reflect how prevalent the issue is in Medway.

He told councillors: “66 doesn’t seem realistic to me. We know there are more than 66 people that are needing help and support with eating disorders in Medway.

“It’s not the service’s fault, but it was a bit disappointing to me to see such a low number because I was expecting for a new service that your numbers would have spiked and there would be more people coming.”

The Gillingham South representative also took issue with the disorder service only receiving nine self-referrals in 2018/19, and challenged health professionals to improve their visibility to vulnerable people.

Cllr Dan McDonald (9199426)
Cllr Dan McDonald (9199426)

He added: “I know it’s difficult for people to approach and it’s a trust thing, but – from experience – self-referrals are more common now because they don’t trust their own GP because knowledge is sometimes limited.”

North East London Foundation Trust representatives defended the numbers, insisting the “current caseload is the caseload” and work is ongoing as to how to improve communication with those suffering with disorders.

Mr Johnson said: “That’s not to say there’s only 66 people on the caseload, so don’t misread that. Every day somebody gets discharged and somebody new joins so it’s much greater than that."

Integrated team manager Nina Marshall added: “It feels like we’re in the second phase now. We set up the service, it’s been running for a year and we’ve got everything in order.”

“I think the second phase is going out there more, getting people to self-refer, doing more early intervention, and targeting people like the male side of things.”

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