Parents of people with eating disorders have said Ireland’s lack of treatment has cost many of them thousands of Euros.
A survey of 100 parents from a carers group called Caring About Recovery (CARED) found 42% paid for treatment out of their own pocket. Of those, almost half spent €10,000 or more.
That is despite the fact that eating disorder treatment is meant to be largely free through the public system.
The sample size is relatively small but it gives an indication of the cost of treatment for families.
The survey also found that 69% of respondents were not satisfied with the overall service provided for eating disorder patients through the public health system.
Connie said she had to go to the UK to get treatment for her 25-year-old daughter Louise, who suffers from anorexia.
While the inpatient treatment was partly funded by the HSE, Connie said the family was still left with a bill and also had to pay for travel and accommodation.
“We were travelling there for almost two years,” she said, “So that would be at least €20,000 minimum.
“We also had to pay for inpatient care. [The HSE] didn’t cover all the costs and we were left with a bill of €10,000.
“The ongoing therapeutic input and dietician input has been well over €5,000 in the last year.”
Paula, whose 27-year-old daughter Laura is anorexic, said she has also faced large bills in an effort to get her treatment for her child.
“Therapy is what the ongoing charges are for us,” she said. “I’d say we’re close on €15,000 or €20,000 – and I realise we’re in a fortunate situation where we’ve been able to manage that.
“The impact on the family has been massive. We’ve done everything we can do. As hard as this must be for us, it must be so much worse for her.”
National eating disorder treatment plan
Parents have called for the HSE to fund Ireland’s national eating disorder treatment plan.
Launched in 2018, it said the HSE would set up 16 specialist treatment hubs across the country. Three years later, just three are operational and all are understaffed.
The plan has been consistently underfunded. In 2018, €1.5 million was allocated but just €137,000 was spent. In 2019, €1.6 million was allocated but no money was spent. Funding was suspended entirely in 2020.
Minister of State for Mental Health Mary Butler said in February that funding for the programme will resume in 2021.
“Funding to enhance eating disorder services will be allocated this year for the recruitment of staff to enhance and establish specialist teams in addition to capital work,” she said.
The HSE has said it expects the three existing teams to be fully staffed by the end of the year, with two or three more hubs opened every year thereafter.