Dear Charlie Massey,
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses affecting approximately 1.25 million people in the UK. They can have devastating long-term consequences and may even be fatal if not treated early – anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illness. The danger of these illnesses is sadly illustrated by the case of 19-year-old Averil Hart, who died from anorexia in 2012.
You will be aware that in December 2017, the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman published a report into the missed opportunities in Averil’s treatment. One of the key recommendations concerned the level of training on eating disorders across the medical profession. They recommend that the General Medical Council conduct a review of training for all junior doctors on eating disorders to improve understanding of these complex mental illnesses. We are calling on you to ensure that this review takes place at the earliest opportunity.
We are also concerned by recent research, which shows that, on average, medical students receive less than two hours of teaching on eating disorders throughout their entire medical degree. Two hours of training is simply not enough time to equip medical students with the knowledge to identify the physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of eating disorders. Furthermore, the research finds that 20% of medical schools do not include eating disorders at all in their teaching. This is unacceptable.
The research also highlights that the majority of postgraduate specialties do not include eating disorders in their curricula. It’s important that doctors in all disciplines are fully educated about eating disorders in order to provide timely and appropriate treatment. This is particularly critical for GPs who, at the frontline of treatment, are most likely to see an individual present with eating disorder symptoms. Research conducted by Beat highlighted that, of the 1,700 people they surveyed, only 42% felt that their GP understood eating disorders, with only 34% believing that their GP knew how to help them with their eating disorder. With such limited teaching, key signs and symptoms may be missed and treatment delayed, compromising patient safety.
The sooner someone gets the treatment they need, the more likely they are to make a full and sustained recovery. We’re calling on you to ensure that medical students finish their training with the knowledge to identify the physiological and psychological signs and symptoms of eating disorders, and provide the necessary interventions to help sufferers access the most appropriate treatment at the earliest opportunity.
As part of a review of training on eating disorders, we are calling for the introduction of the following measures:
- Increased training in medical schools with a curriculum that includes teaching on the physiological and psychiatric aspects of eating disorders.
- Sufficient examination on eating disorders across all medical schools.
- Increased opportunities for medical students to gain clinical experience with eating disorders.
- Increased training and opportunities to gain experience with eating disorders for all junior doctors.