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Investigation underway to determine if the deaths of five eating disorder patients were avoidable

View profile for Kelly Withers
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Investigation underway to determine if the deaths of five eating disorder patients were avoidable

In 2017, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) raised concerns that the NHS may be missing opportunities to assist patients with eating disorders. They published a report: “Ignoring the alarms: how NHS eating disorder services are failing patients”.

The investigation by PHSO was prompted by a complaint by Mr Nic Hart in 2014, whose 19 year old daughter, Averil, had anorexia nervosa and sadly passed away in December 2012. The investigation found that several NHS organisations missed various opportunities to assist Averil; interventions which would, they concluded, have prevented her deterioration and death. 

Whilst the inquest into Averil’s death has not yet taken place, a senior coroner is now investigating whether the deaths of four more patients with eating disorders have occurred as a result of systemic failures in the standard of care provided to them.

The PHSO’s investigation highlighted a lack of ‘joined-up thinking’ between the NHS organisations and Clinical Commissioning Groups, and made some recommendations for improvement of the adult eating disorder services in the NHS.

The Eating Disorder Quality Standard was published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in 2018, which is intended to help with better coordination of care between the people with eating disorders and those various NHS organisations caring for them.

NICE has pushed for a new focus on waiting times, with an aim for 95% of children and young people starting treatment within four weeks by 2020/2021. At present, 81% begin treatment within four weeks. The timeframe for adults is ‘agreed locally’, and there are no national waiting time targets for adults.

PHSO has told the Health Service Journal (HSJ) that the improvements and recommendations are yet to be seen on the front line.

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