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Hospital admissions for children with eating disorders increase by almost 20%

Written by on 31 July 2021

Emma Shepherd’s teenage daughter makes two daily attempts to run away from hospital.

The 13-year-old, who we are choosing not to name, is awaiting a specialist treatment for an eating disorder.

Last week she went missing for four hours before being found three miles away from the hospital.

Emma's daughter Image: Emma Shepherd (right) warns that the long wait for a specialist bed is deteriorating her daughter’s condition

“About eight o’clock at night I received a call from the hospital,” Emma told Sky News. “It was the nurse that was looking after my daughter.

“She asked me not to be worried but said she’d run off, she had managed to get out of the building and the police were out looking for her.”

Emma’s daughter has been at Sheffield Children’s Hospital for three months with no date set for when she can be moved to a specialist bed.

In the meantime, her mother warns that the long wait is fast deteriorating her condition.

“She’s been moved to her own room because she keeps getting quite distressed and having really bad mood swings,” Emma said.

“She keeps trying to run away and she’s now under Section 3 so I’m not allowed to bring her home anymore.

Emma's daughter Image: Emma’s daughter is not allowed out of hospital

“She’s not allowed out of the hospital and she has to be restrained and fed with an NG tube.

“It’s really distressing and upsetting for her.

“Leading up to food time she’ll be looking up at the clock all the time.

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‘Massive increase’ in eating disorder admissions

“The security staff that do the restraining are quite scary for her because they’re all dressed in black and as soon as she sees them in the corridor she starts getting upset and you can see that she’s getting really anxious.”

Across the country, thousands of teenagers are in a similar position, waiting for specialist hospital beds to treat eating disorders.

NHS data shows hospital admissions for children with eating disorders have risen by almost a fifth in two years, and a third among all age groups.

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1 in 6 children battle mental health problems

Out of 21,794 admissions in 2019-2020, teenagers aged 13-18 accounted for 4,348.

NHS England told Sky News it is investing in mental health through things like increased funding and the introduction of helplines.

It says that as well as £40m already deployed to improve the availability of inpatient beds, this year the NHS is receiving another £500m to fund extra mental health services, which include eating disorders.

A spokesperson told us: “Thanks to the NHS Long Term Plan, an additional 345,000 children and young people each year will get help with their mental health and wellbeing and £40m has also been invested in additional inpatient beds . . . so, if you are struggling or have a child who needs help, please continue to come forward and get the care you or they need.”

Michelle Hinde, clinical manager at the South Yorkshire Eating Disorder Association, says the pandemic has exacerbated the situation.

“Because people have not been able to see their GPs or health professionals for months, the eating disorder’s been going on and they might have been losing weight,” she says.

“So what they see is people with much lower weight, so they’re in crisis.

Sheffield Children's Hospital exterior Image: Emma’s daughter has been receiving treatment at Sheffield Children’s Hospital

“If you’re not getting that specialist input from people who understand how an eating disorder can really start to affect someone’s mental health, then generally it’s likely that it could deteriorate.”

Sheffield Children’s Hospital says it is identifying actions to prevent Emma’s daughter from running away again.

Sally Shearer, director of nursing quality, added: “We remain absolutely committed to ensuring the safety, security and wellbeing of all children and young people in our care and will make sure we learn as much from this situation as we can.

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Surge in child self-harm during pandemic

“We understand it is incredibly worrying for families waiting for a suitable placement for their child.

“Work is going on across the country to provide more places for children and young people who need more advanced support, like those offered at our Becton Centre, but in the meantime our clinical teams are working hard to provide the best care we can in the children’s hospital.

“We hope a specialist placement can be found for [Emma’s daughter] shortly, and we are working closely with NHS England and the family to help secure a suitable place for [her] care.”

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