Funding boost for eating disorder services
Frontline workers for eating disorder services have welcomed extra Government funding but say it is unlikely to have a significant impact amid concerns of soaring demand and unmet need.
In the Budget 2022 the Government allocated an extra $3.9 million over four years to services supporting patients battling eating disorders. The extra funding is in addition to the $15.5 million spent each year.
The money will be used to give more patients access to public treatment, says Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall. “This will help increase the capacity of eating disorder services and reinforces our continued focus and commitment to improve mental health and addictions support in Aotearoa.” The extra funding will also be used to upskill staff and improve recruitment, says Verrall.
While the additional funding is a step forward, experts warn it’s simply not enough. Demand and wait times for eating disorder services continue to swell, exacerbated by lockdowns during the pandemic.
The level of need is leaving providers stretched and families suffering, says New Zealand Eating Disorders Clinic (NZEDC) co-director Kellie Lavender. “It’s horrible. I often talk to families who have been turned away from services because they’re not bad enough or they’re too complex,” and that’s just not OK.”
NZEDC is a private outpatient specialist service with centres in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga and Wellington. Staff treat patients who have a variety of eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). Patients are referred through their GP, a specialist or self refer.
Pre Covid-19 the service received about 20 referrals a month and there was a wait time of 2-4 weeks. By August 2020, there were 120 people on their waiting list and patients currently wait up to 16 weeks for assessment.
All eating disorders are treatable and recovery is possible at any age, but this relies on patients receiving high quality, personalised care as soon as possible, says Lavender. While on the waitlist, some patients become more unwell and by the time they enter treatment they are at crisis level.
Extra funding is a good start but the sector also needs streamlined collaboration between public and private services to improve patient care, says Lavender. She says there should also be greater focus on developing and supporting a specialist workforce. Along with advocacy groups in the sector, Lavender is calling for an external review of the treatment model, which simply isn’t working. “Just giving more money to a system that maybe isn’t being effective runs the risk of wasting those funds,” she says. “If we all got together on this we could improve services for families and people suffering from eating disorders.”