Severe psychological problems increase the risk of eating disorders
There has been a call for a national strategy to tackle the problem of eating disorders in Wales. It came as AMs were invited to the first meeting of a cross-party committee to examine the issues, set up by South Wales West AM Bethan Jenkins.
Meanwhile, a charity is putting together a £1m lottery bid to set up the first dedicated residential centre in Wales, near Aberystwyth.
There are an estimated 56,000 people in Wales with eating issues.
The National Institute for Eating Disorders also estimates one in five die as a result.
At present, there is no dedicated residential treatment centre in Wales.
While local community provision for sufferers does exist, Ms Jenkins said people who reached a more critical stage of the illness had to go to England for residential care.
Work is underway to provide residential spaces for children and young people with mental health problems, at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend.
When people reach the more serious stage of the illness, there is nowhere to go in Wales
Bethan Jenkins AM
But this is not expected to be ready until 2009 and is not an exclusive unit for those with eating disorders.
Health Minister Edwina Hart said: “I have made this issue a priority and we are working towards enhancing intensive community-based services together with providing dedicated specialist care in a new development in Bridgend.”
A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said many mental health conditions were inter-related so there would be a range of health professionals available at the unit who would be able to offer help and support.
Ms Jenkins told BBC Wales: “Many of my constituents have approached me with concerns that they have had to receive private treatment in Bristol or London.
“While community services are available for treatment, when people do reach the more serious stage of the illness, there is nowhere to go in Wales.
“I’m concerned we are pumping millions of pounds into the English health services for treatment we could be providing in Wales.”
The Plaid Cymru AM welcomed Ms Hart’s comments, but believed there was more work to be done.
This includes research into the condition in Wales and looking at preventative measures alongside providing treatment facilities.
“We need a national strategy. I think when we get to the specialised end of the scale there is a significant gap in resources and is something that [Edwina Hart] can work on alongside Health Commission Wales (HCW).”
Someone with personal experience of eating disorders at the first committee meeting is Rowenna Menzies, whose weight dropped to four stone when she was aged 17.
She is director of the Graham Menzies Foundation – named in honour of her late partner – which is hoping to set up a specialist residential unit to treat conditions like anorexia.
“When Graham died almost a year ago I took on the work and set up the foundation. I think the cross-party committee is a great idea,” she said.
The foundation is in the process of applying for a £1m lottery grant.
This would provide half the funding to run a centre for five years and provide 50% of the salaries for 14 members of staff.
If successful, the unit would be based just outside Aberystwyth.
Ms Menzies said Ceredigion had the highest rate per head of population of eating disorders in Wales.