GPs are failing to help people suffering from eating disorders, a charity claimed today.
Some GPs told patients they were “going through a phase” or had embarked on a diet “gone wrong”.
The report comes after figures released last week showed a rise in the number of young girls admitted to hospital with anorexia.
Over the last decade, the number of admissions among girls aged 16 and under in England jumped 80%, from 256 in 1996-97 to 462 in 2006-07.
The chief executive of Beat, Susan Ringwood, said the rise could be down to a “wait and see” attitude in primary care, with young girls only being admitted when they were seriously ill.
Today’s report, based on a survey of 1,500 people with eating disorders, found that many sufferers did not think their GP was knowledgeable about treatments or how to access them.
The report said a patient’s recovery was not about choice, but was entirely down to chance, “with the odds stacked against them”.
One patient told the charity: “I felt as if my weight had to drop before the GP would take my worries seriously,” while another said: “When I first went to see my GP they didn’t listen at all. They just told me it was a phase I was going through.”
Another sufferer said: “I left the doctors feeling disheartened, patronised and as if I was making a big fuss about nothing.”
Guidelines for the NHS from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) were an excellent tool for GPs, said the charity, but implementation varied across the country.
The guidelines set out how recovery is possible, provided GPs listen to their patients, act quickly and, in the case of young people, involve their families as much as possible.
Eating disorders are estimated to affect more than 1.1 million people in the UK.
Ringwood said: “We are aware that people affected by eating disorders still aren’t getting the treatment and support they need.
“Only 15% of the people we surveyed felt their GP understood eating disorders and knew how to help.
“This is a shocking statistic: it means that the majority of people encounter uninformed GPs – a huge obstacle to their recovery.”
Prof Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors were aware of the signs of eating disorders.
He said: “One problem is that the group of patients we are dealing with – including bulimics who look as if they are eating normally – frequently present to GPs on a number of occasions before they open up about their problems.
“Eating disorders don’t respect age or sex or social background; boys as well as girls are affected, old people as well as young people. Often they are associated with psychological traumas such as a death in the family or bullying at school.
“It often takes a while for there to be understanding of the problem, it’s not very often that the patient comes to the GP and says ‘I’ve got an eating disorder’. But doctors do know what they are doing and the signs to look out for and patients should be reassured of this.”