Money for specialist care for young people with eating disorders has been “diverted” from the front line, experts have warned.
Eating disorder charity Beat said that it was “unacceptable” that many local health bodies had spent “so little” on services, despite being given additional funding.
The charity warned that the coronavirus pandemic has “increased pressure” on services for children and young people with eating disorders.
It comes as a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Eating Disorders and researched by Beat, claims that Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England increased their spending on children and young people’s community eating disorder services by just £1.1 million in 2019/20, despite having received an extra £11 million in funding for these services.
This analysis found that only 15% of CCGs increased their spend in line with the increase in additional funding they had received from NHS England for these services.
And 21% of these local health bodies in England actually spent less on these services in 2019/20 than they did in 2018/2019.
Commenting on the analysis, Andrew Radford, chief executive at eating disorder charity Beat, said: “Early intervention saves lives, and this diversion of funding has limited services’ ability to deliver it.
“Frontline staff have been working tirelessly to help as many people as possible, but in many areas have been put in an extremely difficult situation due to lack of money and resources.
“It is completely unacceptable that so many CCGs spent so little despite the extra funding they were given, to the extent where 21% spent less than in the previous year.
“These figures pre-date the coronavirus pandemic, which has increased pressure on eating disorder services, so it is now more urgent than ever that allocated funding makes it to frontline services.
“The Government must hold NHS leaders to account to make sure every penny goes towards benefiting children and young people in need of help.”
Wera Hobhouse MP, chairwoman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eating Disorders, added: “Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, and we know that early intervention and access to specialist treatment saves lives.
“NHS England has continued to allocate extra funding to Clinical Commissioning Groups for children and young people’s community eating disorder services, but this report shows that much more needs to be done to ensure this money reaches the frontline services, particularly now as they face unprecedented numbers of referrals.”
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, said: “The pandemic has turned lives upside down, hitting young people particularly hard, and the NHS has responded rapidly to an increase in those coming forward for help with eating disorders – we are now treating more children and young people than ever before.
“Local health areas should absolutely be using this funding to deal with increased demand and treatment continues to be a priority – funding will increase again this year with the aim of treating an additional 2,000 children and young people with an eating disorder.”
Dr Phil Moore, a member of the board of NHS Clinical Commissioners and chair of the Mental Health Commissioners’ Network, said: “CCGs have been using their funding allocations to tackle eating disorders, but the accounting for this is complex and can be captured in wider budgets, including in the overall spend on children’s and young people’s mental health.
“CCG leaders are very conscious of the major rise in eating disorders among children and young people during the pandemic and are ramping up services in order to ensure that children and young people can access the services they need as quickly and safely as possible.”
Eating disorder care has been thrown into the spotlight once more after the death of reality TV star Nikki Grahame.
Grahame, who rose to fame as a contestant on Big Brother, died in April.
The 38-year-old, originally from Northwood in London, had recently received treatment for an eating disorder at a specialist clinic.