Western Mail Article:
Call for strategy on eating disorders
Jan 21 2008 by Our Correspondent, Western Mail
It’s estimated that 56,000 people in Wales have an eating disorder and yet there is no national strategy to tackle the issue and no dedicated treatment centre for sufferers. Bethan Jenkins, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales West, explains why she set up the Assembly’s first cross-party committee on eating disorders
WE LIVE in an age where the pressures of a reality television and celebrity role-model society weigh heavy on us all, not least on those who are most susceptible – young people.
The size-zero phenomenon is something that truly concerns me. As someone still young enough to get away with reading popular magazines aimed at young women, I am truly startled by the recklessness of many as they sit in judgment on those who do not fit their “perfect figure” criteria.
Since being elected as the youngest member of the National Assembly, I was struck by the apparent lack of headway made on the issue of eating disorders. It appears that social perceptions of such illnesses remain a taboo subject for many. But I am in no doubt that the magnitude of the issue is such that the Assembly and Government must act decisively.
To put eating disorders into context, it is estimated that there are around 56,000 sufferers in Wales and, according to the National Institute for Eating Disorders, one in five die as a result of their illness.
The mental health charity Mind says that as many as one woman in 20 will have eating patterns that are cause for concern – most will be aged between 14 and 25.
There is no dedicated residential treatment centre in Wales specifically for sufferers. While I recognise that community provision does exist, those who reach a more critical stage of illness have no option but to seek private care in England. Having said that, work is under way to provide residential spaces for children and young people with mental health problems in Bridgend. But this will not be an exclusive unit for those suffering for eating disorders.
My meetings with sufferers and with stakeholders have led me to the conclusion that we need joined-up thinking and a clear strategy for eating disorders in Wales.
There is no national strategy in Wales on eating disorders at the moment, and in order to rectify this I deemed it appropriate to establish a cross-party committee on eating disorders at the National Assembly. I was delighted that Assembly members from all parties attended, and was pleased with the honest input of Health Minister Edwina Hart.
The committee agreed that a national strategy was needed, and further agreed to compile a declaration of objectives in time for Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which we will launch at the National Assembly on February 27.
This new and exciting project is one that I am truly convinced will make a real difference to the lives of those who suffer from eating disorders, their families and friends.
My eyes were opened to the severity of the situation when I met a constituent who suffered from anorexia. She has been battling the condition for three years, and explained how she felt she would not get the treatment she needed until she was on the verge of death.
A lack of funding meant she had to wait a year before she was offered the specialist treatment she needed outside of Wales – at a private hospital in Bristol.
I am clear that any national strategy will need to tackle this problem on many fronts, not least in reversing current misconceptions – only 1% of young people recently surveyed by charity Beat felt they could talk to their parents about eating disorders.
The challenge we face affects us all. As we take the first tentative steps in addressing this issue in Wales, I am hopeful that we can reach a just outcome for those who need our care and support.