Improve access to Eating Disorders services for all Western Australians

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Improve access to Eating Disorders services for all Western Australians


Eating Disorders are serious mental illnesses that can disrupt a person’s life, relationships, work and development. Nearly one million Australians are experiencing an Eating Disorder at any one time, with a third of these being male (Butterfly Foundation, 2012). Eating Disorders affect people of all ages, genders, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder with an average 1829 deaths per annum in Australia, which equates to 5 deaths per day  (Butterfly Foundation, 2012), greater than the annual road toll! Early identification and intervention are the best ways to improve long term outcomes and save lives. Eating Disorders also have severe economic consequences. The total annual financial burden of Eating Disorders for Australia is $69.7 billion (Butterfly Foundation, 2012). This includes the cost of treatment as well as loss of productivity. In addition to saving lives, the Investing in Need (Butterfly Foundation, 2015) report identifies that for every $1.00 we spend on early intervention there is a 538% return on our investment.

This is in contrast to the current situation, where many of our health dollars are wasted on non-specialist, reactive emergency, medical care that is provided by staff that are neither trained nor supported to manage the biopsychosocial complexities of Eating Disorders. Because there is not a single specialist inpatient bed for Eating Disorders in the public sector, in the entire state of Western Australia, this places an increased burden on our emergency departments and general medical wards. We urgently require change to enable all individuals in need access to timely and affordable treatment where real recovery can be facilitated, and preventable deaths reduced.

If you happen to live in Western Australia, and are aged 16 or older, there are incredibly few, if any, treatment options available to you. While those aged 15 years and under can access a full continuum of care at the Eating Disorders Program at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, those over 16 can only access public outpatient treatment at the Center for Clinical Interventions, who provide psychological care for people who are medically safe enough to be treated on an outpatient basis. Medical care and nutritional support often need to be sought in the private sector, at great expense to individuals and/or families, with little rebate available. Those people who experience serious medical side effects frequently end up in their local emergency department where they are either turned away or admitted to a general medical ward, which is unable to address the comorbid psychological aspects of the disorder. After discharge there is often no follow-up care or support provided.

Whilst the WA Government has recently funded the establishment of an Eating Disorders Consultation and Outreach Service (WAEDOCS) which offers consultation, training, education and resources to clinicians only, it is unable to provide any service delivery, case management or support directly to those experiencing Eating Disorders, and/or their families.

At Bridges Eating Disorders Association of WA we repeatedly hear the struggles that people with eating disorders, and their families, experience while trying to access support services in Western Australia. Imagine reaching out for help only to find that there are extremely limited options, particularly for those that need it most.

·         There are currently no specialist beds for people affected by eating disorders in the public health system in WA

·         There is no publicly funded day program, for people aged over 15 years, in WA

·         There is only one specialised public service for people aged 16+ in WA.

This is an outpatient only service that is staffed by just four people, resulting in an extremely long waitlist. Additionally, this service is only able to see clients with a BMI of 16+; hence excluding a significant amount of the population affected by eating disorders. For those people with a BMI lower than 16 there is no specialist public service accessible. This denies some of the most vulnerable people access to the life-saving treatment they need.

We call on the West Australian Government to invest in a comprehensive continuum of care for ALL West Australians affected by Eating Disorders. We appreciate the investment in care for children and early adolescents over the past decade, but youth and adults deserve the same access. We urgently need the government to prioritise early intervention, programs within community services, outpatient treatment, day treatment and specialised public beds. We have seen a series of business cases and plans over the years but we have yet to see real action. We need to spend some money now to save money in the future and most importantly… to save lives.

“I’m not just asking for help, I’m “screaming and jumping up and down for it.”… I was just so tired of fighting two battles solo…[one] within myself and [one] against the health care system” – Butterfly Foundation (2012, p. 47).

Sign the petition here