For the first time EVER, my community eating disorder service has employed a psychiatrist specifically for the eating disorder service. I have been wanting my community eating disorder service to get a specialist eating disorder psychiatrist for years. So I was very pleased to hear that my community service was getting an ED psychiatrist. However, my optimism with this news was very short-lived.
I have been discharged from hospital now for nearly 11 years. In those 11 years, I have seen a specialist eating disorder psychiatrist twice. I wrote about this in a blog a few years ago (which you can read: The Functioning Anorexic). Someone with a specific illness should be treated by a doctor with a specialism and knowledge of that illness. Like I say in that old blog, you wouldn’t send someone with a heart condition to a specialist foot doctor.
Over the years, I have asked my community eating disorder service if I can see a specialist ED psychiatrist. Well, I say ‘asked’ but often it was ‘begged’. I was desperate to speak to a psychiatrist with knowledge of eating disorders. Someone who would be able to understand what I was feeling and the ED related conditions I was experiencing. Basically, I just wanted help with my illness, anorexia, from someone who knew how to help. I spoke about this desperation in a blog in 2017: A Meeting With A Psychiatrist. But every time I asked, my community eating disorder service said it was not possible. The trust did not have its own eating disorder specialist. My community services would not provide funding for me to see on in a different trust. The postcode lottery very apparent here.
The two times I did see a specialist ED psychiatrist was when my community eating disorder service actually requested it. They had some concerns with a physical condition I was experiencing. So when the community ED service wanted it, I could see a specialist. But when I felt I needed it, I couldn’t. So you can imagine my relief when I recently found out that my community eating disorder service was getting its own eating disorder psychiatrist. Hallelujah!
But not all is as it seems. I met this new psychiatrist this week. I was disappointed. Despite being employed to work as the psychiatrist for the trust’s eating disorder service, it would seem that this psychiatrist doesn’t actually have experience of working with ED patients. They are not a specialist. Back to the analogy: basically a foot doctor has been employed to work as the specialist for the heart condition services. So yes, there is now someone designated to work as the eating disorder psychiatrist. But they have no more experience or knowledge than all the other general psychiatrists who have overseen mine, and eating disorder patients, care over the last 11 years.
This actually makes me more angry than if the community eating disorder service didn’t have a consultant for eating disorders at all. At least then it wasn’t pretending to offer a service that it wasn’t. When I met with this new psychiatrist, the types of questions I was being asked, and some of the statements he was making, really did reflect someone with very little specific knowledge of eating disorders. I also don’t appreciate having to rake over all of my history again for the millionth time. I’ve been in eating disorder services for 14 years – read my notes.
My experiences with my own particular eating disorder community service are not unique. This will be happening all over the country. Patients with eating disorders not able to get the specialist help and treatment that they need because of a postcode lottery and underfunded mental health services. As a patient, it leaves you feeling quite helpless and hopeless. Thankfully for myself, I’ve reached a position in recovery where I don’t desperately need a specialist ED psychiatrist. So the fact that the new eating disorder psychiatrist for my community services is not in the least bit specialist is not as of important to me as it would have been previously.
But it has been a very frustrating 11 years. Five years ago, I desperately needed that specialised help. But I couldn’t have it. I really feel for the other patients in my community eating disorder services who are in similar positions to how I was back then. Who desperately need that specialist help. They are being told that we now have a designated eating disorder psychiatrist. But what good is this when they have no more experience of eating disorders than all the other general psychiatrists in the trust? Giving someone a title doesn’t give them experience, knowledge and expertise.
In my opinion, certain jobs require people to have specialisms in those areas. You wouldn’t expect to be taught Biology by a Drama teacher, or be flown in an aeroplane by an accountant. Or how about having your hair cut by a plumber? So why should someone with an eating disorder receive treatment from someone who isn’t an ED specialist? It is not acceptable. But it is the state of so many eating disorder, and other mental health services. Postcode lotteries, under funding, stretched resources and lack of appropriately qualified staff. This needs to change. I will continue to speak out, raise awareness and do what little I can as one person to try and help. It would be really great if you could like and share this blog to help me try to make some sort of difference and impact.
I would be really interested to here your experiences within your local eating disorder services so please do leave a comment and let me know.