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Eating Disorders: More Harm Than Good Is Being Done

Victoria Schonwald, a New Zealand registered dietician, says there is currently more harm being done than good in New Zealand’s healthcare system to treat people with eating disorders.

“We have unskilled health practitioners trying to treat a disease which is the most deadly of all psychiatric illnesses,” Ms Schonwald says. “This isn’t their fault – the system is failing patients and the workers who have to care for them.”

“Doctors aren’t provided any formal training, people aren’t seeing psychiatrists for formal diagnoses, and its near impossible to get on a waitlist for treatment.”

Ms Schonwald says she spends many hours of her time supporting families and patients, some for free because they cannot afford treatment. “They have been refused hospital admission and need medical monitoring for refeeding syndrome, which puts me in a dangerous position. The DHB’s have had no advice for me at all about how to handle this.”

Nicki Wilson, Chair of the Eating Disorder Association, says their voluntary organisation of six people provide the only education doctors and medical students receive. “Without the time we spend with frontline workers and medical students the situation would be even worse.

“This is clearly untenable. The government needs to admit the mental health system is failing New Zealanders with eating disorders. We don’t even know how many people in New Zealand are suffering because there is no data.

“EDANZ receives calls around the clock from parents desperate for support, and healthcare workers begging us to continue supporting patients while they wait for treatment. Yet we are an unfunded organisation of six people. We are stretched beyond our means.

“New Zealand needs to step up and take note of how other countries are successfully treating eating disorders, which are a treatable condition, to avoid the huge drain on the public health system over a patient’s lifetime.”

Wednesday 2 June is World Eating Disorder Day. On Thursday 3 June, at 10.45am, Rebecca Toms, a mother of a recovered eating disorder sufferer, will be presenting a petition to Matt Doocey MP on the steps of parliament urging the Government to provide ‘Urgent expert care and subsidy assistance for young people with eating disorders’.

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