A five-year plan to improve eating disorder treatment in Ireland looks set to be delayed by almost four years, Newstalk has learned.
The HSE national eating disorder plan envisages 16 specialist treatment hubs being set up across Ireland.
But three years after its launch at the start of 2018, recruitment has started for just three teams.
The HSE says it plans to have these three teams in place by the end of 2021, while setting up the rest of the hubs is expected to take a further five years.
Under this timeline the plan would likely not be rolled out until the end of 2026, instead of the original aim to have it finished by the start of 2023.
“In 2021 the plan is to complete the 3 eating disorder teams in place with some of the posts that are still to be filled,” the HSE said in a statement to Newstalk.
“It is hoped that 2-3 teams will be added each year over the next five years. This is dependent on funding for staff, available premises to deliver the service from, and readiness of the community health organisations to set up a new service.”
The plan has faced consistent financial issues, as funding meant for new staff and facilities was instead used to help shore up spending overruns in other areas of the mental health service.
The HSE said this money has been reallocated to the eating disorder programme, and is available to spend in 2021.
“Stretched to the limits”
Joyce Russell, from the Parents Action and Care eating disorder support group in Kerry, says the plan is taking too long.
She said this means services are under-resourced, so people with eating disorders have to be severely ill before being treated.
“My daughter is in care again due to nearly dying last August. The only reason she was admitted into hospital is because she was given two days to live. She is thankfully doing well (now), but It shouldn’t have to get to that stage. And I know that is the situation for so many families,” she said.
“People are discharged when their BMI (Body Mass Index) is still very low. Every time they are discharged too early, you put relapse at a very high risk. And each time a family is being worn down, more and more, without the help of beds, and nowhere to turn.
Ms Russell said she was aware that resources are currently “stretched to the limits” in the health service, the eating disorder treatment plan must be fully implemented to help both those suffering and their families.
“I see the HSE and us as families working together can help each other,” she said.
Jennifer Twyford Hynes, a clinical psychologist from the Psychological Society of Ireland, says the rollout of the plan is far too slow.
“Professionals don’t feel well-supported in terms of training, resources and supervision. This isn’t fast enough,” she said.
“Only about 5-15% of people with eating disorders seek help, so it is really concerning that we hear from those who do end up seeking help, the vast majority have difficulties accessing treatment.
“It really shouldn’t be up to the individual or family to fight for help when we know early intervention or treatment improves the likelihood of recovery.”
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