New analysis by the Children’s Commissioner for England shows the number of children and young people starting treatment for eating disorders has more than doubled since 2016-17 and they face increasingly long waiting times.

This is a concerning increase, especially as those with the most urgent needs can wait as long as 12 weeks to start treatment.

This is a long way short of the NHS target of 95% of children and young people starting treatment within one week for urgent cases and four weeks for non-urgent cases.

Results from our 2023 Public Perceptions Survey also highlighted eating disorders as an issue among young people. Our research found that 15% of 16 to 24-year-olds have experienced an eating disorder in the past five years.

School counsellor

Now Jo Holmes, our Children and Young People Lead, has renewed our calls for a funded counsellor in every school to help children and young people process issues before they get out of control.

Jo said: "These figures are worrying with capacity issues within already stretched NHS services preventing children and young people getting the treatment they so desperately need.

"We know that within children and young people’s counselling provision, issues around eating disorders are often uncovered resulting in both urgent and non-urgent referrals being routinely made.

"Counsellors are often the professionals left ‘holding’ children, young people and their families at a critical time when waiting for NHS interventions.

Early help

"Counsellors also play a crucial role in early help, being able to process issues with children and young people before things get out of control.

"That’s why we campaign for access to a funded counsellor in every school and community hub setting in England – the earlier the help the less pressure on NHS specialised provision."

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: "It’s worrying that children and young people are facing increasingly long waits for treatment for eating disorders – which are often serious and potentially life-threatening. Young people deserve timely access to effective care.

"The Government must also focus on tackling some of the potential drivers of disordered eating. Children need to be robustly protected from harmful eating disorder content online which can drive body image issues.

Critical moment

"Now is a critical moment with the Government’s Major Conditions Strategy to tackle this growing issue and ensure we remain focused on the needs of children. I hope that in merging the Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan with other major conditions in this strategy, the focus on children’s mental health is not diluted. I have submitted my response and look forward to seeing the Government’s strategy.”

Find out more about our campaign for a paid counsellor to be available in every secondary school in England.