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Tackling the early onset of eating disorders in young adults

Posted: 18th March 2022

Young people in South Yorkshire and North East Lincolnshire that have an eating disorder, including anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating, are set to receive rapid help through the launch of new service FREED.

First episode Rapid Early intervention for Eating Disorders (FREED) is an evidence-based early intervention model for eating disorders, tailored to young people’s needs.

The national implementation of this NHS service has been supported by the AHSN Network. Locally, the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN has worked with NAViGO in NE Lincolnshire – an organisation that provides mental health services to the NHS across the area and the South Yorkshire Eating Disorders Association (SYEDA) – an independent charity that provides support to people affected by eating disorders. The AHSN has supported the two organisations to build on the successful model first shown to help young people in London, with one patient describing it as ‘the gold standard’ of care.

National reports indicate that there has been a dramatic increase in eating disorder cases during the pandemic with the impact of the last two years resulting in more young people needing support.

With eating disorders causing serious physical and mental health problems which can last decades, the expanded service will target care to those who have been living with a condition for fewer than three years, to tackle problems before they escalate.

Teens or young adults coming forward who would benefit from treatment will be contacted within 48 hours with assessment beginning within two weeks.

NAViGO FREED lead, Sarah Heaton said: “Eating disorders can ruin young adults’ lives, so it’s vital that we provide support as quickly as possible to prevent what can be a devastating impact.

“We’re excited to be launching FREED and hope that with this new approach, anyone in North East Lincolnshire who is experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder will now be able to access a rapid, evidence-based intervention before the condition spirals out of control.”

Developed six years ago by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, FREED provides rapid access to high-quality care for people in the early stages of illness when treatment is most likely to be effective.

FREED will run alongside NAViGO’s existing eating disorder services which include community outpatient services and specialist inpatient eating disorder facility Rharian Fields.

Better weight outcomes

two-year follow-up study on FREED,  published in 2019, showed that patients who were treated for anorexia nervosa via FREED had better weight outcomes and reduced need for day or inpatient care compared to patients that were treated via standard care pathways.

The nationwide rollout of the early intervention programme furthers the commitment to the NHS Long Term Plan, to improve access to adult eating disorder services.

As part of the work to transform community mental health services across the country, the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) is supporting the national adoption of evidenced based models including FREED for the early identification of eating disorders in adults aged 17.5 – 25.

Mark Dines-Allen is the project manager for the Yorkshire & Humber AHSN and has been working closely with NAViGO to introduce the service locally.

He said: “Eating disorders are disabling and potentially deadly, and early treatment is essential. FREED overcomes barriers to early treatment and recovery and provides highly coordinated early care, with a central focus on reducing the duration of an untreated eating disorder. It consists of a service model and a care package.

“I hope that by rolling out FREED in the North East Lincolnshire region it will create the momentum needed elsewhere to make early intervention a reality for all young people with eating disorders.”

You can find out more details or self-refer to the service here.