Urgent need for extra resources after spike in teenage eating disorders

May 27, 2021 | State News

There is an urgent need for extra beds and psychiatric help at Perth Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Unit after new figures show referrals have increased by almost 50 per cent in the last year.

In parliament today, the Health Minister revealed the extent of the escalating crisis with referrals to the unit jumping from 185 in 2019 to 273 in 2020. There were 22 referrals in December alone, a record high.

The unit only has eight inpatient beds for the whole State and those referred to the unit have to wait six to nine months to be assessed before they can be considered for treatment at the unit.

“This is an absolute devastating situation for the families who are forced to watch their children starve as they battle these horrific mental illnesses without any support while they wait months for a place to become available at the unit,” Ms Mettam said.

“In the meantime, I’m told that if they do go to hospital because their child’s weight has plummeted they are often turned away because there aren’t enough beds. They are left to battle this alone.

“We know that with anorexia in particular, early intervention is key to an improved outcome and that simply is not being provided in WA and it’s an absolute travesty.”
Ms Mettam raised the issue in parliament on Thursday after being approached by a number of parents.
“I’m told that by the time these children are actually being admitted to the unit they have often progressed to a critical level both mentally and physically,” Ms Mettam said.

“There are real concerns about the lack of psychiatric care in the unit, with parents telling me that the focus is on physical weight gain without any targeted therapy to address the core mental illness these children are suffering.

“This is despite the regular episodes of psychosis, self-harm and suicide attempts that occur during the hospital refeeding process in the unit. Security guards are positioned at the entrance of the unit to assist with the heightened behaviour.”

Ms Mettam said families had told her that once children gain weight, they are discharged but 57 per cent of patients are re-admitted within 28 days.
“This system appears to be focussed on turning over the beds and it just isn’t working. They are discharged and told to seek psychiatric support but that isn’t always possible with wait lists of three months and more for most psychiatrists specialising in eating disorders.

“These parents believe their children are being left to languish in a system that is essentially not listening to them and not treating their child’s core mental illness. They are desperate for a better approach and I urge the McGowan Government to urgently review the current treatment model and provide extra beds and psychiatric resources to allow these patients access to the help they need.

“We can do better and we must do better.”