EDANZ Media Release: 27 November 2020
Eating Disorder services in New Zealand at breaking point
Record numbers of young people seeking help for eating disorders has services at breaking point with clinicians and health experts meeting today to discuss the unfolding crisis.
Eating Disorders Association of New Zealand (EDANZ) has organised a Hui in partnership with The Werry Centre, the national centre for infant, child and adolescent mental health. Attending will be representatives from the country’s district health boards, phycologists, counsellors, volunteers and sector experts to discuss the “massive increase” in clients, which has put a major strain on already stretched services.
Nicki Wilson, chairwoman of EDANZ, says services cannot meet demand with children as young as age eight having to wait weeks, sometimes months, to be seen for life-threatening eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.
EDANZ is calling for a sector-led specialist panel, supported by government, to look at what can be done to provide better support. “Eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia are treatable illnesses – people can get better quite quickly if they are treated early enough, but that’s just not happening.”
Due to long waits nationwide, it’s common for a condition to deteriorate, including life-threatening illnesses like anorexia. “People of all ages have ended up being hospitalised for refeeding while they wait for access to an eating disorder service,” Ms Wilson says.
The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is one of the highest of all psychiatric illnesses. EDANZ has been contacted by families caring for loved ones of all genders, ages, and across all socio-economic and cultural groups, all desperately trying to access treatment.
“DHB clinicians have reported a big increase in paediatric treatment for eating disorders, and this year it has been harder to access treatment than ever before,” Ms Wilson says. “One specialist told me their DHB had more than doubled its paediatric inpatient caseload this past year alone, on the back of already significant increases in previous years.”
EDANZ, who run nationwide support groups and a telephone and email support service, says callers to their 0800 number are four times higher this year, while clinicians in the private sector have reported a nearly triple increase in referral rates.
Dr Marion Roberts, who runs a private treatment clinic in Auckland, says demand has increased by four times since April this year. “There are always multiple factors leading to eating disorders. The likes of COVID have definitely added to it, particularly for our teen clients.”
EDANZ volunteer Kelly Mahuika, agrees that COVID seems to have exacerbated the situation. This could be due to greater awareness with families spending more time together, along with the stress itself caused by the pandemic, she says.
“We have parents absolutely desperate for help. We’re hearing of more and more parents taking their children to emergency departments to seek help. I’ve had parents call saying their child has passed out from malnutrition and they don’t know where to turn to for help.”
EDANZ says eating disorder treatment services span the health system, making them fragmented and disjointed. “DHBs run their services differently. Also within each DHB eating disorder treatments cross over into different areas such as mental health, community based treatment and hospital level care.
“There is no single point of view, and worryingly very little data collection,” Ms Wilson says. “We are grateful for the work of the DHB’s, but we must continue collaborating to improve treatment services.”
Other challenges that EDANZ and Hui attendees say they face include a workforce shortage of specialists with eating disorder training. EDANZ would like GPs upskilled so they can more easily identify cases early on and treat patients more proactively in the community whilst they await specialist care.
Dr Roberts, who trains clinicians in treating eating disorders, says urgent action is needed. “The availability of clinicians skilled and experienced to provide evidence based eating disorder treatment is drastically below what is needed to meet the demand,” she says.
EDANZ are committed to providing clinicians and families with support to improve access to treatment and to achieve better outcomes for individuals battling these curable illnesses – full recovery is possible at any age and any stage.
Please note, this hui is a private event and is not open to media. However experts, clinicians and families are available to provide comment. See below.
- Nicki Wilson, EDANZ Chair, is available from 1pm for interviews on 027 548 4530
- From 9am Anna Chalmers is available on 021 679 697. She can connect media with families, medical professionals and EDANZ volunteers.
WHERE TO GET HELP FOR EATING DISORDERS:
- 1737 - free call or text 24 hours a day to talk to a counsellor
- Healthline - 0800 611 116, available 24/7
- EDANZ - 0800 2 EDANZ - Support for family of those with an eating disorder.
- If you think you are suffering from an eating disorder, call your GP immediately for a referral to specialist services.
- If it is an emergency or you, or someone you know, is at risk call 111.