Beat is the UK’s eating disorder charity, and is a champion, guide and friend to all affected by these serious mental illnesses. We base our work on the latest research and advice from clinical experts, as well as on what sufferers and carers tell us about their experiences.
Currently, Beat is very concerned about the level of eating disorder training for medical students. Research[i] shows medical students in the UK receive less than two hours of eating disorder training during their undergraduate degree, and one in five universities do not offer any teaching on eating disorders at all.
The lack of undergraduate training means that doctors are often unable to provide appropriate referrals for sufferers when a patient presents, causing delays in treatment and putting patient safety at risk.
This lack of training also means undertrained doctors too often only look at physical symptoms of eating disorders like BMI and do not consider mental health factors.
In a survey of 1,700 people in 2017, only 42% felt that their GP understood eating disorders and only 34% believed their GP knew how to help them with their illness.[ii]
Another worrying aspect of the research into medical student training is the severe lack of specialist training posts, with just 17 such posts dedicated to training clinicians to treat eating disorders. Patients with eating disorders should be referred to specialist services and should not be treated in general mental health units, but the lack of specialist training placements will only add to shortage of specialist clinicians.
One patient told Beat, “I’ve had staff in general psychiatric wards tell me that I don’t look like I have an eating disorder, which has been very triggering and difficult.”
This research comes in the wake of a 2017 Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) inquiry into the deaths of three people with eating disorders, which concluded that lack of training was one of the factors that contributed to the tragedies.[iii]
Other patients spoke of doctors whose understanding of eating disorders enabled them to make appropriate referrals. One patient described this as “…a huge help to my recovery and a major factor in me not requiring inpatient treatment later on.”
It is vital that eating disorders are treated at the earliest opportunity, as this gives people the best chance of a full recovery, and can more than half the cost to the NHS per patient.[iv] Adequate training for all doctors is essential if they are to recognise problems, manage crises and provide appropriate referrals.
Beat runs training for healthcare and educational professionals, and offers partnerships with NHS to reduce the burden on service providers. This includes training and peer support groups for carers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Beat also runs a helpline service that is open every day of the year.