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Health / New group aims to improve support for people suffering from eating disorders

A STEERING group dedicated to improving support for people suffering with eating disorders has been launched in Shetland.

As part of the ongoing work to support people suffering with eating disorders in the isles, the NHS Shetland group is focused on improving local services.

It comes after a local woman spoke to Shetland News about her struggles with an eating disorder condition last year.

The group, which includes NHS professionals, relevant partners, people with lived experience and third sector organisations, held its first meeting last week.

The launch of the group also coincided with Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which ran between 28 February and 6 March.

Health improvement principal and chair of the new group Katrina Reid said: “The first meeting of this steering group provided an important opportunity for members to come together to consider what we know about eating disorders in Shetland and what we know about the need for support locally.

“We discussed how we need to learn more about the experiences of people with eating disorders in the Shetland isles, opportunities to improve communication between services and what skills and expertise we need locally to provide appropriate support.

“We also discussed the importance of identifying opportunities to provide support for people as early as possible.

“Taking a whole system approach to preventing, responding to and mitigating against the impact of eating disorders will be central to how the work of this group develops.

“We must work with a range of partners to understand the need for local support and to identify opportunities for creating meaningful change.

“Our discussion was informed by the 15 recommendations which were published nationally by Scottish Government in July 2021.”

Staff nurse Jenny Welsh, who has been heavily involved with the implementation of the group and who was diagnosed with anorexia in 2018, said: “We were really pleased with the first meeting as we were able to discuss short-term plans and our longer-term aims.

“Part of our aims include improving the current referral process and the plan of care for people who attend their GPs with concerns surrounding their eating.

“We are also keen to look at improving the communication between services such as between GPs, dietetics and the mental health team and how as professionals, we can support each other in order to provide the best care, as well as looking at who takes responsibility for the different aspects of treatment for example, vital signs and weight monitoring.”

The group is also planning to launch an online questionnaire with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the local need for eating disorder specific care and the general awareness in the community.

Welsh added: “We think the questionnaires will provide valuable information regarding how many people locally are affected by eating disorders and whether or not they have tried or would know how to seek help for themselves or a family member.”

In the future the group will also be looking to establish a local carer support group/resource for parents or carers.

It was announced last August that NHS Shetland was in line to receive £21,736 in funding from Scottish Government after it was recognised that more people were coming forward with eating disorder conditions as part of a national review.

The funding is being used to help implement the recommendations set out by the National Review of Eating Disorder Services, as well as fund further training for staff.

Emma Broadhurst from eating disorder charity Beat said: “Beat is delighted to be part of the new steering group and to be able to support the development of services in Shetland.

“As we know, eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and so it is crucial that anyone affected by an eating disorder can access the right treatment and support as soon as possible.

“With more people needing eating disorder support than ever before during the pandemic, the demand for local and accessible treatment has never been higher.

“We hope these new services will ensure that every person in Shetland can access the treatment they need at the earliest opportunity.”

The charity estimates that 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, 75 per cent of which are female.

If anyone is worried about their own or someone else’s health, they can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year on their Scottish helpline at 0808 801 0432 or via Scotlandhelp@beateatingdisorders.org.uk