New specialist eating disorders unit months behind schedule

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A SPECIALIST unit to treat eating disorders has fallen months behind schedule as new figures show an increasing number of young patients suffering from the conditions.

Initially scheduled for summer 2011, the opening of the 12-bed centre at St John’s Hospital in Livingston was pushed back until October but months later it is still not ready.

NHS Lothian said projections for opening were taken at an early stage and that it was a “major and complex” project involving multiple NHS boards, adding that it should finally open this month.

News of the postponements comes as new figures show the number of children seeking treatment for the illnesses in the Lothians is on the rise.

Data released under Freedom of Information laws indicate that 29 patients – some as young as ten – were treated for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or other eating disorders in the last year, a ten per cent hike on the previous year.

The £200,000 centre, dubbed the South East Scotland Regional Eating Disorder Unit, would treat patients from Lothian, Borders, Fife and Forth Valley.

Dr Jane Morris, chair of Scottish Eating Disorders Interest Group – a network of NHS and private professionals as well as voluntary bodies interested in the condition – said the delay in opening the new unit was a “huge disappointment”. She said: “Having worked in [a similar unit in Aberdeen] and seen how much it has to do, it’s very sad indeed.”

“I think it’s absolutely crucial, for all sorts of reasons.

“It makes a whole network of care and expertise available to patients and I think also an inpatient unit is one of the best possible places from which to conduct research.”

Dr Morris added: “I don’t kid myself that one of the reasons the NHS want to open good eating disorder units is that luckily for us the private sector came in and filled, to some extent, a gap that was screaming out to be filled. The NHS cannot afford to refer all needy patients to the Priory.”

Mary George, a spokeswoman for the charity Beat, which supports people with eating disorders and tries to change perceptions of the conditions, said: “We welcome specialist treatment whenever it can be available and the sooner people are seen by specialists and treated the better it is for them and the more likely it is that they will make a full recovery.”

Linda Irvine, strategic programme manager for Mental Health and Wellbeing, NHS Lothian, said: “We are pleased that the South East Scotland Regional Eating Disorder Unit, for people with severe eating disorders, will open in January at St John’s Hospital.

“We gave a projected completion date in the early stages of the planned development, as far back as 2009. However, this is a major and complex project involving three other health boards and we are delighted to deliver the new specialist unit.”

david.mccann@edinburghnews.com