By Evelyn Ring
THE NUMBER of places in a major eating disorder unit have been doubled in a bid to cope with the growing number of people seeking treatment.
St Patrick’s Hospital’s 16-bed unit is now the largest of its kind in Ireland and aims to treat more than 120 patients per year.
A significant increase in the number of people being referred to the Dublin hospital for treatment over the past five years meant that some were having to wait several months to secure a place on its programme.
With the launch of the new unit, however, waiting times have been reduced.
Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, welcomed the development but regretted the lack of investment in public health services for people with eating disorders.
There are only three specialist public hospital beds which means that only 20% admitted to adult psychiatric units and hospitals get the care they need.
Bodywhys chief executive Jennie O’Reilly said, with 200,000 people across the country affected by eating disorders, it was crucial more community-based services were provided.
"If people do get the services they need earlier on they may not need hospitalisation," she said.
The aim of the St Patrick’s Hospital programme is to help the patient identify and work through the thoughts, feelings and behaviours associated with eating disorders through group, individual and family therapy.
To mark the launch of the unit, the hospital has also produced a new eating disorder programme brochure that will be distributed to GPs and health centres.
At the launch was Fair City actress, Orlaith Rafter, whose character in the soap, Robin McKenna, is recovering from bulimia.
"There is a lot of pressure in today’s society to be slim and this can have a negative effect on body image."
She said she spent a lot of time with sufferers of eating disorders so she could portray her character’s illness in a realistic and sensitive way.
* The Bodywhys helpline number is 1890 2004444 and their website address is www.bodywhys.ie.