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NHS organisations are still failing people with eating disorder, says parliamentary report prompted by UEA student's death

PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 June 2019 | UPDATED: 08:46 18 June 2019

Averil Hart, who died aged 19 in 2012

Averil Hart, who died aged 19 in 2012

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NHS organisations need to stop prioritising their own reputations over learning from patient deaths.

Official portrait of Sir Bernard Jenkin. Photo: Chris McAndrew / UK ParliamentOfficial portrait of Sir Bernard Jenkin. Photo: Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament

That was one of the recommendations in a parliamentary report into eating disorder treatment, prompted by the death of a Norwich student.

Averil Hart, who suffered with anorexia, died in December 2012 after being failed by every single NHS organisation which treated her.

Her father Nic has campaigned tirelessly for changes in services since, and in December 2017 the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) released a report which demanded widespread changes to be made countrywide.

Now, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has found little has actually been done to meet these goals since.

The report found that training on eating disorders in medical schools is limited to "just a few hours" and that, as the first port-of-call for many sufferers, medical staff and GPs in particular need significantly more training on the nature of anorexia nervosa and the behaviours that sufferers may display.

A spokesman from the UEA said students on the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree course at UEA receive an hour-long lecture about eating disorders, and are provided with access to additional online UEA and Royal College resources

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They said: "Mental health teaching within the undergraduate medical curriculum is under current pressure, as a focus on improving mental health outcomes is increasingly important for the NHS. We strive in our teaching to cover the most prevalent mental health conditions that newly qualified doctors will encounter every day in their foundation years of further training.

"So although we don't currently have plans to expand our teaching on eating disorders, since that would be covered in more depth within postgraduate speciality training (psychiatry), we certainly plan to continue to include and emphasise eating disorders as being a particular problem that is pervasive within our UK patient population.

"On graduation, our aim is to have developed competent doctors who are able to recognise and identify appropriate treatment options for those with eating disorders. This includes a multi-disciplinary approach, working with other specialist health professionals.

"Students will have direct clinical experience of patients in treatment for acute eating disorders within their clinical placements, and may also see patients in a primary care setting suffering from eating disorders."

The report also identifies a series of failings from the NHS to act on recommendations for improving care for patients with eating disorders to avoid unnecessary deaths.

It detailed how Mr Hart had been in constant contact with over six organisations before any formal investigation was launched into Averil's death. He gave extensive evidence to the committee as it formed its report.

He said: "When you have sufferers there who are telling stories, it's such a striking reminder that you've got to be at death's door to get any priority in the health system."

The committee was also "shocked" to find "the NHS does not have precise information on the prevalence of eating disorders", there is a postcode lottery of services, and there were severe gaps in care.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, the committee chairman, said: "We cannot risk any more avoidable deaths from eating disorders. Eating disorders are complex mental and physical health illnesses and deserve dedicated training, specialist care and a commitment from the NHS to learn from its own mistakes. It's been nearly two years since the PHSO reported on how NHS eating disorder services are failing patients."

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