Lack of action on eating disorder resources nothing short of a scandal

Senator Annie Hoey image
26 January 2022

Labour Senator and member of the Oireachtas Health committee Annie Hoey has today demanded that Minister for Mental Health, Mary Butler immediately outlines an action plan to increase specialist eating disorder resources in the community. With the conversation growing on the damaging impact of diet culture, Senator Hoey said the inherent inequality in the treatment of eating disorders is absolutely unacceptable.

Senator Hoey said:

“The surge in eating disorders during the pandemic has shone a light on how unfair and under-resourced State services are in the area of eating disorders. It’s nothing short of a scandal and it is having a particular impact on children and adolescents suffering from eating disorders. It is totally deficient – for the past decade we have had only three public hospital beds in the entire country to treat those suffering from an eating disorder, despite the fact that Bodywhys are reporting a 60% increase in referrals.

“We know that for too long mental health services and services for eating disorders in particular have been neglected, under-funded and under-resourced and we in the Labour Party want to change this.

“It’s also a clear strategy from the government to shirk responsibilities and let those without means suffer and wait. Families that can afford it are going to the UK to seek out treatment. Indeed, the Nightingale Hospital in London is expecting an increase in Irish cases this year. The lack of services in the public sector needs to be addressed if we are to bring true equality to the system. People need to know that when they need care most, the State will provide it.

“There is a clear and obvious need for a radical and sustained shift to the delivery of care for those suffering from eating disorders in Ireland with an emphasis on care in the community. Early intervention and equality in the delivery of services is key here. There is much good work done by community care workers but this needs to be stepped up by providing the necessary resources and personnel to build strong community based interventions.

“The tsunami of referrals for treatment for eating disorders started long before the pandemic, but even still, I am stunned by the explosion in the situation throughout the past two years. While there are many reasons for this surge, we would be foolish to ignore the influence of so-called “diet culture”, which is so widely promoted on social media sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. What is most pervasive about this type of information is that it is promoted directly by people who users admire, on a platform they trust.  

“Social media sites can’t continue to allow this harmful content to be published without consequence. Posts that are altered should be labelled as so. Posts that encourage unhealthy diet and exercise regimes should be accompanied with information labels and helpline numbers.

“The gross inequality in the mental health services, whereby some areas of disadvantage lose out on their fair share of service provision, needs to end. This requires strong State intervention by better funding and equipping our care system while ensuring that outlets promoting ‘diet culture’ do not go unchallenged.”

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