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Below is a letter sent to Minister Simon Harris, Minister Stephen Donnelly and Minister Mary Butler by the Union of Students in Ireland today, World Eating Disorders Day (2 June, 2021)

Dear Minister Simon Harris, Minister Stephen Donnelly and Minister Mary Butler,

We write to you on behalf of 374, 000 students on World Eating Disorder Day asking you to urgently assess the inadequate, under-resourced and underfunded eating disorder support services available in Ireland, with the intention of improving the services rapidly to meet the needs of the population.

Eating disorders are more common than we think with many third level students developing eating disorders over the duration of their college terms. Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, reported that there has been a significant increase in people seeking their services, particularly the online support group, which has seen a 110 per cent increase in users, while its PiLaR (Peer Led Resilience) programme for families and supporters, has seen a 98 per cent increase in attendance since the groups moved online during the pandemic.

According to the HSE’s Model of Care for Eating Disorders (January 2018), an estimated 188,895 people in Ireland will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives, with approximately 1,757 new cases developing in Ireland each year. The figure is likely to be higher with the increase in cases in 2020/2021. An article in the Irish Medical Journal earlier this year noted that there was a 66 per cent increase in admissions with eating disorders in 2020 compared to 2019. In 2020 alone, there were 228 referrals; 4 in 5 reached referral criteria and 1 in 4 referrals were deemed as urgent. We appreciate the plans made by Minister Mary Butler to increase the eating disorder services to six, however, this is a first step part of a broader long-term plan.

It is regrettable that we only have three specialist community eating disorder teams in the country, all of which have seen increases in referrals, resulting in essential healthcare of those struggling being unmet. In addition, none of the four child and adolescent services in Ireland have the appropriate range and number of staff. It is deplorable that 85 per cent of those experiencing eating disorders find it difficult to access treatment.

The following critical service gaps have been identified by Bodywhys as a result of their extensive experiences with people with eating disorders:

  • The primary care sector often lacks necessary knowledge about eating disorders, resulting in delayed identification of illnesses and inappropriate treatment
  • Publicly funded, out-patient and day care programmes are scarce and often lack a comprehensive, long-term strategy for each individual patient
  • The three specialist beds for eating disorders (all in Dublin) are manifestly inadequate to meet demand

We ask that you take our recommendations on board:

1) Ensure equity for addressing and understanding all forms of eating disorders
2) Commit to equity in research and sustainable core funding for programmes, services and initiatives
3) Secure equity in access to treatment and recovery
4) Provide education and awareness to the wider population
5) Provide specialised training around eating disorders for mental healthcare professionals

Finally, it cannot be ignored that mental health only receives approximately six per cent out of the overall health budget, compared to the international standard of 12 per cent. USI strongly believes that mental health is fundamental to our overall wellbeing and should receive the attention, care and funding to recognise its importance in people’s lives. We ask that you take the complexities of eating disorders and the neglect in providing adequate services seriously. We trust you as Ministers to act on this matter with the utmost sensitivity and urgency.

Sincerely,

Clare Austick
USI Vice President for Welfare

Lorna Fitzpatrick
USI President

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