Two leading medical organisations point out the need for more GP support for treating eating disorders
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the British Medical Association (BMA) says GPS require more specialist units, and 10 minutes is not enough when working with eating disorder patients.
It follows a survey conducted on GP experiences by the charity Beat.
Results showed over 92% thought that their GP weren’t trained enough in the area of eating disorders.
Almost 1,700 people were asked by Beat Eating Disorders about what their experience was like in order to get a diagnosis from their GP.
69% of respondents also felt as though their GP didn’t know how to help them.
The survey was released to go alongside with Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
Jess Griffiths had an eating disorder between the ages of 11 and 21 and, now in full recovery, she works as a consultant to NHS England and with her local eating disorder service in Dorset.
When speaking about her personal experience, she says she wasn’t showing the full picture when she first approached her GP in order to get help.
“I was presenting at a low weight and not having periods, so the GP put me on the pill, but I went there hoping he would ask me the questions [about a potential eating disorder]”
“But it’s really hard for people with eating disorders to – in a really pressurised situation with a doctor – say how they really feel.”
For doctors to become a GP they must complete training in mental health, which includes eating disorders, as part of a three-year training plan on top of what’s taught at medical school and the two years of post-graduate foundation training.
Dr Richard Van Mellaerts, part of the BMA’s GP committee, has said the results of the survey are ‘deeply saddening’.
“People with eating disorders should never feel that GPs are a barrier to accessing care, so it is vital that medical education and training supports doctors to identify eating disorders and support their treatment,”
Dr Richard Van Mellaerts
However, he does add that there’s ‘poor provision of specialist care’, which has left GPs ‘frustrated up and down the country’.
A possible solution, according to The Royal College of GPs’ vice-chairman Dr Gary Howsam, is longer appointments in order to provide the best possible care.
“Eating disorders, indeed all mental health conditions, are complex – they may also not be the primary reason a patient has made an appointment to see their GP,”
“The standard 10-minute appointment is inadequate for GPs to have the necessary conversations with patients, but offering longer appointments means offering fewer, and patients already report having to wait too long to access GP care.”
Dr Gary Howsam, Vice-Chairman of The Royal College of GPs
Jess Griffiths agrees:
“I think GPs do an incredibly difficult job – they have to know a lot about illnesses, mental health conditions, and they are strapped for time.
“The workforce issue means we do struggle to provide that level of care needed in specialist services currently – so I can totally empathise,”
Jess provides support to the charity Beat. Drawing on her personal and professional experience, she has helped develop a training programme with the aim of guiding GPs who need more eating disorder support.
“We’re providing resources to ensure that with the limited time GPs have, they can make an effective assessment and gain all the information they need to then know how to support a person.”
In order to get enough time together, she says eating disorder patients need double and triple appointment bookings to be made accessible, and GPs need more power to be able to do that.
“The difficulty with eating disorder patients is they don’t often present in a crisis, and they are generally not underweight, so it’s not often visible what is going on. You need to get to the thought processes behind the mental illness and that definitely takes longer than 10 minutes,”
“Eating disorders can be devastating for people living with them, and we want to ensure that everyone has access to the right support.
“We are working with partners – including Health Education England – to improve training for GPs, and with the General Medical Council to ensure newly qualified clinicians understand and know how to respond to eating disorders.
“We have invested £58 million this financial year to expand adult community mental health services, including those for eating disorders. This is on top of the additional £1 billion we are investing in community mental health care for adults with severe mental illness as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.”
Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson