One third of eating disorder sufferers do not receive referral to a mental health service, despite clear medical guidance that stresses the need for immediate referral.
The research from eating disorder charity, Beat, to tie in with Eating Disorders Awareness Week (27 February to 5 March 2017), found that while half of those suffering from eating disorders have received good or very good care from their GP, half rated it poor or very poor according to a survey of nearly 1,700 people.
The survey, which is the largest ranging survey ever of eating disorder sufferers also discovered that GPs do not receive sufficient training to equip them to deal with these sufferers, and their families.
The research also discovered that 55 per cent felt that the GP did not understand the importance of early intervention and only 34 per cent felt that their GP knew how to help them.
The survey also revealed that only one in five of these GPs provided their patients with information about eating disorders, despite the recommendation by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, or signposted them to services which would help.
Elizabeth McNaught, a junior doctor aged 25, had eating disorders when she was younger and says how she lost “years” of her life by having a poorly trained GP.
“My GP clearly had very little knowledge of the subject,” she says. “She was insensitive, making unhelpful comments and asking inappropriate questions.
My story is not unusual: Many doctors do not know enough about eating disorders because they don’t feature very highly in medical training. I believe that if my GP had had more training I wouldn’t have lost so many years of my life. Things could and should have been different.”
Elizabeth has since undergone five years of medical training, however, training remained insufficient. “We had just two hours on the subject throughout five years of study. And since many students didn’t see it as core to their training, only half of them turned up for it.
She adds, “The prevalence of eating disorders is growing at an alarming rate and their complexity is such that only two hours of training is not enough.”
No formal teaching in eating disorders
A GP who provides training on eating disorders explains how not much has changed since the nineties.
"I have been a doctor since 1993 and a GP since 1998. I had no formal teaching in eating disorders whilst I was training. I know from our younger associates that this still appears to be the case.
"GPs are competent at identifying their training needs and courses are available but an opportunity for training at the beginning of their careers would be beneficial.”
Not about blaming GPs
With around 725,000 people in the UK affected by an eating disorder Beat Chief Executive Andrew Radford explains how this isn’t about blaming GPs.
“It’s about enabling the 50 per cent of GPs who didn’t provide good care to be as supportive of eating disorder sufferers as the 50 per cent who did,” says Beat Chief Executive Andrew Radford.