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Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Why medical school training is key to supporting people with eating disorders

This opinion piece is almost 2 years old

Eating disorders are serious and complex mental illnesses that impact around 1.25 million people across the UK. Each year for Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW), our team at Beat brings attention to a different issue affecting people with eating disorders, and campaigns for widespread change.  

This year, we surveyed over 1,600 people across the UK who have or have had an eating disorder and asked them about their experiences with healthcare professionals.

We discovered that over two thirds of survey respondents felt that their GP did not know how to help them with their eating disorder. 92% of people said that their GP would benefit from more training. 

We know that doctors across Scotland are working incredibly hard to provide the best care for their patients, but they can’t do so without the training that they need.  

Beat is calling for every medical school to provide comprehensive eating disorder training. This will give future GPs and future medics all the necessary knowledge and skills they need to help someone presenting with an eating disorder.  

Why is this campaign important? 

We know that reaching out for help with an eating disorder can feel incredibly difficult. And the sooner somebody accesses treatment for an eating disorder, the more likely they are to make a full recovery. That’s why it’s so important that people with eating disorders feel comfortable reaching out to doctors, and that doctors know how to support them. 

Sadly, the pandemic has had a huge impact on people with eating disorders, and we know that more people are needing eating disorder support than ever before. At Beat, we provided 150% more support sessions to people in Scotland between April 2020 and March 2021 in comparison to the previous year. 

Thanks to our campaign, three out of four medical schools who provide 4th year medical training and one foundation programme in Scotland have now committed to providing quality eating disorder training during their medical degrees. 

Involving people affected by eating disorders 

A huge part of my role at Beat involves helping people with personal experiences of eating disorders to get their voices heard. Our ambassadors regularly speak with community groups to raise awareness of eating disorders, and meet with health professionals so that they can ask questions about what treatment is really like for people in Scotland, and how to speak to somebody about their illness. Our volunteers are helping to generate incredible change across the country, and their ongoing passion and dedication to helping others is inspiring to see. 

Volunteers have also been getting involved with healthcare policy. Earlier this year, the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) released a new guideline, which recommends the right treatment for anyone with an eating disorder. A Beat ambassador was a member of the working group and our ambassadors were also instrumental in the development of the patient version of the guideline. 

One area that the guideline highlights is that every person has a role to play in a person’s recovery, whether that’s a healthcare professional, teacher, or loved one. It's crucial that quality training and advice is available to increase the understanding of eating disorders, and to ensure that every person is signposted to the treatment they need quickly. 

Support from the Scottish Government 

During Eating Disorders Awareness Week, the Scottish Government announced that they will be providing an additional £380,000 of funding to Beat. This amazing boost will fund our existing services in Scotland until the end of March 2023, meaning that we can continue reaching more people affected by eating disorders and providing the support that they need.  

The funding will also go towards developing new services, including a carer referral service where NHS services and Beat will work together ensuring families and carers can access support more easily and training for current primary care professionals. We are so grateful for the Scottish Government’s support. As the charity sector experts in eating disorders, we also welcome the opportunity to work with other third sector organisations, public and private sector organisations across the nation. 

How you can help 

The passion of our supporters is so inspiring and we’re always keen to hear from people who want to get involved. There are lots of opportunities to campaign for more medical training, such as signing an open letter to all UK medical schools. You can find out more about on our Eating Disorder Awareness Week page

If you or your supporters have recovered from an eating disorder and are interested in telling your story, we provide fantastic volunteering opportunities throughout the year. Keep an eye out on our website for current roles.

Emma Broadhurst is the National Officer for Scotland at Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity Originally from Paisley, Emma has worked in public health and health improvement for over 20 years.

About Beat: Beat is the UK’s eating disorder charity. We provide help for anyone affected by an eating disorder, including helplines, online support groups, and support for people whilst they are waiting for specialist treatment. 

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s health, you can contact Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, 365 days a year on their Scottish helpline at 0808 801 0432 or via