Eating disorders: Children face treatment barriers ‘every step of the way’

Parents’ group protests at Department of Health over lack of treatment for young people with eating disorders

Families seeking treatment for children with eating disorders are facing barriers “every step of the way,” a mother whose teenage daughter was left waiting a year for specialist care has said.

Amy Hanley – who lives in Skerries, north Dublin – said her family had faced huge challenges since her 16-year-old daughter was diagnosed with anorexia last year.

“The process of getting treatment for her was extremely difficult, like every single step of the way we hit some kind of barrier,” she said.

A GP referred her daughter to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs), where she was on a waiting list for “close to a year and a half,” she said.


“In the meantime, she deteriorated because we had no help, no support ... It is a very complex mental health issue and we’re just parents, we don’t know what to do,” she said.

Her daughter’s condition deteriorated to the extent she was admitted into hospital, while waiting for a bed in a specialist ward for eating disorders in the Linn Dara inpatient unit.

After a month in hospital she was transferred to Linn Dara, where she spent three months, her mother said.

“That was actually really helpful time because they gave us training as parents ... That’s something I would have loved to have in the year preceding, I would have been more able to help her,” Ms Hanley said.

After she was discharged Ms Hanley’s daughter was referred back to Linn Dara but could not get a bed in the specialist facility, as the Health Service Executive (HSE) said her admission was not “clinically appropriate”.

As a result her daughter was “stuck” in Temple Street Children’s Hospital for seven months, where she was not able to receive appropriate psychiatric treatment, her mother said. “She was only home for three weeks all together the past year”, Ms Hanley said.

“We found no help ... I said: ‘that’s it, I’m done here’ and I went to the media and a week later, she got placed in an inpatient unit,” she said.

Families should not have to resort to publicly telling their stories to get access to appropriate medical treatment, she said.

Ms Hanley, who works as a librarian, said one problem was the Linn Dara facility in Cherry Orchard Hospital had been forced to close beds due to staffing shortages.

“It’s already at a crisis point, and now it’s just going to get worse. So it needs to change immediately,” she said.

The difficulties securing treatment for her daughter had impacted all of the family, she said. “The amount of times we had to drive back and forth to different hospitals. The amount of time we had to divide our time between the two kids. It was just extremely difficult and trying to work full time, having to take unpaid leave,” she said.

Ms Hanley, who is from California and moved to Ireland eight years ago, said she had been aware the healthcare system in the Republic “wasn’t the best”.

The level of connection between different parts of the health service was “lacking”, she said.

“The fact that you have to get your psychiatric treatments separate from your medical treatments, I found that really detrimental to her recovery,” Ms Hanley said.

Ms Hanley was speaking at a protest attended by a group of parents outside the Department of Health, to highlight shortcomings in care for young people with eating disorders.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times