First episode rapid early intervention for eating disorders

Rapid access to specialised evidence-based treatment for eating disorders

Opening the door early to help young people with an eating disorder

Young people aged 16 to 25 from across Cornwall and Isles of Scilly will be among the first in the UK to get rapid access to help with eating disorders.

The investment comes as part of the NHS Long Term Plan to expand and improve community mental health care. The investment will bring a first episode rapid early intervention for eating disorders (FREED) to Cornwall and Isles of Scilly.

The Trust is 1 of 18 areas nationally to receive extra money to launch this new NHS service.

The service is based on a successful model developed and trialled at King’s College London and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, with support from the Health Foundation. It reduces wait times and improves patients’ outcomes.

George is one young person who received help from the service while it was in development. She moved to London when she was 21 and her eating disorder worsened as she moved to the capital on her own.

After persuasion from her family, George visited the GP who referred her to an eating disorders service delivering the NHS service. Within 2 weeks, she was meeting with a psychologist for a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) session.

George was with the service for 18 months and recognises the service not only supported her to manage her eating disorder but also with other challenges she had to face including having surgery, changing jobs, moving homes and acclimatising to the new city.

George said: “My treatment was completely tailored to me and my lifestyle. After my treatment finished, I left the programme so optimistic and grateful for everything they had given me.”

The service will help young people with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

Lynn Olver is part of the Trust's eating disorders team. She explains, “This new service is all about getting people the support they need as quickly as possible. We want to open the door to our services. Early help will mean young people can get back to school, college or work and most importantly get on with their lives.

“At the moment, people find it hard to get help. It can take up to 3 years for someone to seek help; sometimes this is because they don’t know help is out there. This new service is designed to overcome that.”

Eating disorders cause serious physical and mental health problems which can last for decades. In 2015, a report estimated between 600,000 and 725,000 people in the UK have at least 1 eating disorder.

The new service will aim to help people access help within the first 3 years, before problems escalate.

Teens or young adults coming forward who would benefit from treatment can be contacted within 48 hours and with treatment beginning as soon as 2 weeks later.

Lynn continued, “Lots of people feel anxious because of COVID-19. An eating disorder can be a way to work with the challenges and difficulties we all face. It’s something which quickly occupies the anxious part of our minds. Most people don’t realise eating disorders are more about our feeling and emotions than food.”

Early signs of an eating disorder we can all look out for include:

  • a new or increased obsession about food
  • changes in behaviour
  • distorted believes about body size
  • being tired or struggling to concentrate
  • disappearing to the toilet after meals
  • excessive exercising

The eating disorders service has met face to face with people throughout the pandemic. They’ve also used video and phone calls to remain in touch with people.

If you are worried about yourself or someone else, useful tips on how to start a conversation are available from national charity Beat, or for more information visit the FREED website.

You can also contact your GP to ask for a referral to the eating disorder service.