The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on referral numbers, diagnostic mix, and symptom severity in Eating Disorder Early Intervention Services in England

Lucy Hyam*, Katie L. Richards, Karina L. Allen, Ulrike Schmidt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Objective: First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders (FREED) is a service model and care pathway which aims to provide timely, well-coordinated, developmentally informed and evidence-based care for young people with eating disorders (EDs). This article investigates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on FREED patient presentations and service provision in England. Method: Data from three services spanning the pre- to post-pandemic period were included (January 2019–September 2021; n = 502 patients). Run charts were created to analyze changes in monthly baseline patient data (e.g., referral numbers, duration of an untreated ED, diagnostic mix, and average body mass index for patients with anorexia nervosa [AN]). Results: Significant increases in referral numbers were found from September 2020 onward, coinciding with the end of the first UK national lockdown. The percentage of AN presentations significantly increased after the onset of the first national lockdown (April 2020–December 2020). No other significant change patterns were identified. Discussion: There have been substantial increases in referral numbers and presentations of AN to FREED services whereas illness severity seems largely unchanged. Together, this suggests that increased referrals cannot be attributed to milder presentations being seen. Implications for the implementation, funding, and sustainability of the model are discussed. Public Significance: Our research suggests that early intervention eating disorder services across England faced significant increases in patient referrals and presentations of anorexia nervosa over the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase in referrals is not due to a rise in milder eating disorder cases, as baseline symptom severity remained stable across the pandemic. Investment in early intervention for eating disorders must therefore match increased referral trends.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-275
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Volume56
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • early intervention
  • eating disorder services
  • feeding and eating disorders
  • national health services

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on referral numbers, diagnostic mix, and symptom severity in Eating Disorder Early Intervention Services in England'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this