Provisional data from the months between April and October last year, the most recent available, shows that 4,238 children under the age of 17 were admitted to hospital needing treatment – an increase of 41 per cent on figures from the same period in 2020.
Compared to data from 2019 during the same period, when 2,508 children were hospitalised, the figure is 69 per cent higher.
Additionally, data from all age groups shows that 15,941 people were hospitalised for eating disorders between April and October last year.
Dr Agnes Ayton, chair of the eating disorders faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said there is an “epidemic” of eating disorders in the country and called on the government to increase funding for support services.
“The hidden epidemic of eating disorders has surged during the pandemic with many community services now over-stretched and unable to treat the sheer number of people needing help,” Ayton said.
“Early intervention is key to recovery and to preventing serious illness, which is why it’s crucial that the money announced by government urgently reaches the frontline.
“The government must also deliver a workforce plan to tackle the shortages in eating disorder services so that they have enough staff to treat everyone who needs help.”
In March last year, the government announced that it will spend £79 million on boosting mental health support for children and young people, including eating disorder services.
“All healthcare professionals must be trained in recognising early signs of eating disorders to ensure both children and adults can access specialist support as quickly as possible,” Ayton said.
The most common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.
As per the new data, most admissions between April and October were for anorexia, followed by bulimia.
Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at the eating disorders charity Beat, said the rise in figures was concerning.
“We know that accessing quality community treatment reduces the chances of somebody needing hospital care, and so the rise in admissions suggests that people are not getting the support that they need quickly enough,” Quinn said.
“The pandemic has had a devastating impact on people with eating disorders, with many experiencing increased anxiety and isolation during the ongoing uncertainty and disruption since March 2020.”
“This has contributed to the rise in the number of people needing support and we know that frontline healthcare staff have been under increasing pressure to treat more people with eating disorders than ever before.”
Quinn said hospital admission numbers were only “the tip of the iceberg”.
“We urge the government to publish data about the number of adults waiting for and accessing eating disorder treatment, so that we can better understand the scale of demand and assess what improvements need to be made to help every single person with these serious mental illnesses.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care told The Independent: “We are committed to improving access to mental health services for children and young people and the NHS is investing an extra £40 million to address the pandemic’s impact.
“This includes putting £10 million towards extra beds at units which care for young people with eating disorders and other complex needs as well as £1.5 million to ensure there are additional facilities for children under 13.”
Additional reporting by PA
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies