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Eating disorders cost UK around £15bn per year

Investment needed for GP services to help patients with disorders

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 23 February 2015

The total economic cost of eating disorders to the UK is around £15bn every year, concludes a report published today by Beat, the UK eating disorder charity.

GP leaders have called for more investment into primary care, following the report, to allow GPs to deliver more services for patients with this type of problem which they say is hard to deal with in the average 10-minute GP consultation.

Beat’s report The Cost of Eating Disorders – Social, health and economic impact, says its findings also show inconsistencies on access to treatment for individuals.

Beat commissioned PwC to produce a report on the economic impact of eating disorders on individuals, their carers and the economy overall and the findings are based on a survey of first hand experience of more than 500 people across the UK who have been affected by the illness.

The average annual cost to treat someone with an eating disorder is £8,900, but the report’s authors found examples where annual treatment costs had reached £100,000.

The loss of income – through time off work and education is on average £9,500 per annum for people aged 20 and above with the condition, and £5,900 for carers, says the report. There is also a longer-term impact on earnings well beyond the initial average 6-year cycle of treatment.

These costs suggest an annual direct financial burden on people with the condition in the region of £2.6-£3.1bn, total treatment costs to the NHS in the region of £3.9-£4.6bn and lost income to the economy of around £6.8-£8bn, collectively costing the economy around £15bn.

People responding to the survey experienced a wait of 15 months, on average, between recognising symptoms and treatment starting. Almost a fifth (18%) waited two years or more.

The government’s latest initiative to invest £30m per annum was an important first step, said Beat, but the report indicated that this was only the beginning of the battle against the condition.

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, said: “We know the massive impact that an eating disorder has on anyone affected, and their friends and family too.

“Eating disorders are a treatable condition and recovery is possible. We want everyone to know just how much it costs if we are not all up to speed on the need to act quickly.”

The RCGP acknowledged that eating disorders could have terrible consequences for patients, their families and carers as well as costing the NHS billions every year.

Dr Liz England, RCGP clinical champion for mental health, said: “Early identification is important and GPs are trained to help our patients to discuss difficult issues - but this can take time and can often only be achieved after many consultations, especially when these are only 10-minutes long.

“GPs need more time with their patients but we are already working harder than ever to cope with soaring demand and patients presenting with multiple and chronic conditions, both physical and mental.

“We need more investment in general practice so that we can deliver more services to all our patients, including those with eating disorders and other mental health issues.”

The college is developing initiatives to support GPs in identifying and treating eating disorders as early as possible.

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