Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2022 — Chichester MP Gillian Keegan called on to 'follow up on promises' to fund urgent treatment

Mental health campaigner Hope Virgo has said that the current state of eating disorder services in the UK is ‘absolutely appalling’ and has called on Chichester MP Gillian Keegan to take action.
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Hope Virgo is the campaigner behind the Dump the Scales petition which calls for treatment to be made more readily available to people with eating disorders, regardless of their Body Mass Index (BMI). She was inspired to start the campaign after being denied treatment for an eating disorder because she 'wasn't thin enough for support'.

Since the petition began almost four years ago, it has racked up more than 100,000 signatures. Now, Mrs Virgo is urging supporters to take the next step and demand Chichester MP Gillian Keegan takes action to tackle the discrepancies in accessibility to eating disorder treatment across the UK.

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Currently, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence's (NICE) guidelines state: "Do not use single measures such as BMI or duration of illness to determine whether to offer treatment for an Eating Disorder.” But Mrs Virgo said that 'this is simply not being implemented'.

Hope Virgo, the campaigner behind Dump the Scales, is calling on the government to increase funding for eating disorder treatment.Hope Virgo, the campaigner behind Dump the Scales, is calling on the government to increase funding for eating disorder treatment.
Hope Virgo, the campaigner behind Dump the Scales, is calling on the government to increase funding for eating disorder treatment.

"[Eating disorder services] are still based on whether a person has a low enough BMI in order to access support and treatment which is wrong on so many levels because we know that eating disorders aren’t about food, they’re not about weight. You cannot judge the severity of someone’s eating disorder based on their BMI."

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In March, 2021, the government released its 'mental health recovery plan' which detailed how it will 'respond to the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the public'.

This outlined the funding that will be directed to NHS services, including: £500 million to support people during 2021/22 for all mental health issues — with £79 million of this being used to expand children's mental health services — and £40 million provided by the NHS for children's eating disorder treatment.

Gillian KeeganGillian Keegan
Gillian Keegan
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In addition to this, Mrs Keegan said the government will invest £58 million to 'expand adult community mental health services, including those for eating disorders'.

She said: “We are also expanding children’s mental health and eating disorder services, including by investing an extra £79 million, enabling at least 2,000 more children and young people to access eating disorder services.

Eating disorders can be devastating for people living with them, and we want to ensure that everyone has access to the right support."

Under the NHS Long Term Plan, 'almost £1 billion extra' will also be invested into community mental health care for adults by 2023/24, which will provide support for 370,000 adults with severe mental illnesses, 'including eating disorders'.

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Despite this, Mrs Virgo said there has been 'no indication' of what percentage of these funds will be directed primarily to adult's eating disorder services, despite the demographic making up about 70 per cent of patients requiring hospitalisation.

She added: "We know from the recent APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) report that most of the money is not hitting the front line for eating disorder treatment."

Speaking about the government's lack of action, Mrs Virgo said: "We are back to square one with a new mental health strategy consultation about to kick off.

“[Mrs Keegan] gave a commitment — we felt — that she was going to support this moving forward, and particularly look at developing a strategy to tackle this.

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“Following that, I think it was in December that the government reshifted all of their priorities around mental health. You say one thing and they’ve then shifted everything, and, again, they don’t see it as that urgent issue to tackle.

"We’re often being told that in ten years time we’re going to have this much investment into services but actually the fact that people are dying, every single day, because of an eating disorder in 2022, when it’s an illness that’s treatable and preventable, is just not okay.

“Honestly, I don’t think enough is being done."

Mrs Virgo suffered from anorexia nervosa herself as a teenager, spending many years hospitalised and 'on the brink of death'.

After her grandmother passed away in 2016, she relapsed and decided to seek help again. However, when she built up the courage to speak to a professional, Mrs Virgo was denied support due to her weight not being low enough.

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She said: “I ticked every box to access treatment [but] because I wasn’t underweight, there wasn’t anything they could do for me.

“I had this sort of competitive part of the anorexia in my head telling me that I wasn’t deserving enough for the support, that I wasn’t worthy enough, that I wasn’t sick enough, that people didn’t get it.

“I was really, really worried that I was never going to get to a space where I was able to be well, because the eating disorder part of my brain had just got so loud and was doing its absolute best to pull me back in, trying to offer all of that false sense of certainty and value that it did before."

"The fact that [BMI] seems to be the gatekeeper for things at the moment is just completely wrong.

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"It’s also frustrating because we know there has been this huge increase over the pandemic of adults and children really, really struggling, but yet we’re just not seeing this as a matter of urgency.

Suzanne Baker, carer representative for F.E.A.S.T., said: “Timely access to sustained, specialist treatment is key to recovery from an eating disorder at any age or stage. Currently too many people are not able to access this treatment often due to misconceptions about what an eating disorder ‘looks’ like.

"There is no one look - eating disorders are serious biologically influenced illnesses and are often hidden in plain sight."

Bethan Legg, 23, from Chichester was diagnosed with anorexia at age 11. After spending years fighting for treatment, her weight finally dropped low enough to be eligible for support — by this point, her BMI was considered extremely severe, according to diagnostic criteria. Miss Legg was hospitalised in a specialist eating disorder unit, which she said just made her 'more obsessive as it was all calorie controlled and about weight gain'.

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Despite being weight restored and improving mentally since then, Miss Legg began to struggle again during lockdown, and decided to seek support again.

She reached out on November 23, 2020, and received a response from Adult Mental Health Services (AMHS) stating she was 'on a waiting list' in March, 2021. It wasn't until January 2022 that Miss Legg was contacted again, requesting a blood test and stating that she would need to be weighed.

She said: "My BMI is only slightly below average, therefore I'm presuming that's why I still haven't heard anything about getting help from an eating disorder specialist."

With anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, waiting times like these can be deadly, but it is a reality for many sufferers in the UK.

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Mrs Virgo said: "I’d like [the government] to understand that eating disorders are serious mental health issues, that they’re not a choice or something someone grows out of.

"It's an illness that not only completely destroys the person's life who’s living with the eating disorder, but it can destroy the family network, the carer’s network, the whole support around them as well.

"It can also have life-lasting impacts on that person which, from a government perspective, we know that will have an impact on the economy as well.

"I believe that we need an immediate injection of funding into both children and adult services.

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"Unless we start to tackle this as a matter of urgency, the number of people dying on a day-to-day basis from an eating disorder will just keep on increasing."

To find out more about Hope Virgo's campaigns, sign the Dump the Scales petition and follow her on Instagram.

For information about finding support for eating disorders, visit: