‘I cry every day’: Anorexia patient forced to live 400 miles from home because of NHS bed crisis

‘Being hundreds of miles from my parents leaves me feeling so lonely and isolated. It’s so hard to fight without your family and friends to support you’

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 27 November 2019 18:11
Emily Gasparro
Emily Gasparro

A student midwife battling anorexia is being forced to live almost 400 miles from her home in Norfolk because of a chronic shortage of specialist beds in the NHS.

Emily Gasparro, 20, is one of dozens of patients being forced to travel long distances across the UK to receive the help they need for serious mental health problems.

Her parents, Tony and Louise, can only visit every four to six weeks because of the cost of the eight-hour journey.

Emily developed anorexia after her parents were sent a letter telling them she was overweight in her last year of primary school, when the children were weighed and their BMI measured.

Ms Gasparro, a receptionist at a GP surgery, was following a WeightWatchers programme at the time. Emily began to copy her, and by the age of 11 she was cutting out so many meals it had become an obsession.

At that point she was admitted to a psychiatric unit in Chelmsford, Essex, and learned more about how to starve herself from other girls.

For the best part of the next decade she was in and out of eating disorder clinics and was an inpatient at a unit in Cambridge, only to be discharged in June, which she says was too early.

By July she needed to be back in hospital but doctors said the only place available was in Glasgow, as there were no beds near her home in Swanton Abbott, Norfolk.

She refused to go and had to be sectioned, and since July has been living full time at the Priory in Glasgow.

She said: “I miss my mum and dad like absolute crazy. I cry every day. They visit once a month to every six weeks because it’s so expensive.

“Being hundreds of miles from my parents leaves me feeling so lonely and isolated. It’s so hard to fight without your family and friends to support you. It completely crashes my motivation.”

Emily applied for a midwifery course at the University of East Anglia but has had to drop out three times because of her eating disorder.

At one point she had a body mass index of just 12. A healthy range is between 18 and 25.

The government has vowed to end so-called out of area placements for adults in acute inpatient care suffering from mental health disorders by 2020-21.

Data released earlier this month showed 60 patients with mental health issues were sent more than 300km (190 miles) for treatment while 165 were sent between 200km and 300km from their homes. The average daily cost of treatment was £560.

Emily added: “NHS provision for anorexia is awful. There are not enough beds.

“The shocking thing is that I literally live about 20 minutes away from the best unit there is for anorexia. There is one in Norwich which is really specialised and therapeutic.

“I truly believe being this far from home is detrimental to my recovery.”

Mr Gasparro, a site manager, said he and his wife were heartbroken by how far away their daughter is.

He said: “It makes it very difficult. We are a very close family. We want to support her but it’s not so easy when you’re so far away. It’s costing us an absolute fortune to get backwards and forwards and there’s been no help at all. That’s been a real problem.”

Emily is under the care of the Norfolk Community Eating Disorder Service run by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

A spokesperson said: “We are fully supportive of the NHS commitment to eliminate out of area placements. For some very complex cases there are very few places in the country which can offer the kind of highly specialist treatment some patients require.

“On rare occasions, patients are treated elsewhere in the country to ensure they receive the most appropriate care as soon as possible.”

Additional reporting by Triangle News

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