Just three dedicated hospital beds for adults with eating disorders, committee hears

Bodywhys says treatment for people with related ilnesses largely provided in community

Just three beds dedicated to adults with eating disorders are provided in the State’s public hospital system, but services are being delivered through other avenues, TDs and Senators have heard.

In a presentation to the Oireachtas sub-committee on mental health on Tuesday, the support group Bodywhys said that while there were just three beds, located at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin, there were plans to expand that to 26.

Harriet Parsons of Bodywhys said critical care is also provided in other hospitals, private beds were regularly acquired to help public patients while care for young people was available through inpatient Children and Adolescent Mental Health programmes.

The HSE estimates that up to 180,000 people in Ireland are affected by eating disorders, with up to 1,800 new cases occurring each year.

Bodywhys said eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are recognised mental health conditions which have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.

Ms Parsons said treatment for people with eating disorders tended to be focussed in the community, with the assistance of patients’ families.

She said when somebody was admitted to hospital they tended to have a critically low body mass index. When they come out of hospital they were “not well”, in the sense of the disorder being resolved, but were stabilised and ready to undergo treatment.

Responding to Gino Kenny TD, Ms Parsons said under-18s who were judged to be seriously unwell would be admitted to a National Children’s Hospital facility in Tallaght, Dublin, or any one of a number of regional hospitals. On leaving hospital, she said, young people could be discharged into the inpatient Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs).

She said in a community focused treatment model, a patient may meet a therapist for one hour a week, but they were with their family all the time and so community and family involvement was very important.

Senator Martin Conway asked how services were delivered to those with other conditions such as autism. He asked Bodywhys chief executive Jacinta Hastings where best-practise treatment can be found internationally.

Ms Hastings said Bodywhys borrowed and learned from the publications and experience of the Australian Butterfly Foundation, the National Eating Disorder Association in the US and “our collegues in the UK”.

She told the committee that there was a significant increase in demand for Bodywhys services during the Covid-19 pandemic.