A charity that helps people with eating disorders has warned that GPs are failing to provide enough help to tackle conditions such as anorexia and bulimia.
According to a report by Beat, only 15% of people with an eating disorder said they felt their doctor understood the condition or knew how to help them, and others even said they were not taken seriously.
Research shows that some patients had been told they were "going through a phase" or had embarked on a diet "gone wrong".
The report comes after new figures that show that there has been an 80% increase in the number of girls aged 16 and under in England admitted to hospital with anorexia, from 256 in 1996/97 to 462 in 2006/07.
Susan Ringwood, Beat chief executive, said the rise could be a result of a "wait and see" attitude in primary care, with young girls only being admitted when they were seriously ill.
The charity said that although the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) provided guidelines for the NHS, GPs are failing to implement them.
Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the quality of specialist services is "patchy" across the country and they need to improve.
Copyright © Press Association 2009
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"As the parent of someone with an eating disorder and a member of BEAT, I took part in the survey and in some discussion with BEAT about the publication of the results. I was concerned that the report would be used to pin the blame for everything that ever goes wrong in the treatment of these tragic diseases fairly on the shoulders of the country's GPs and it seems to me that my fears were somewhat justified. While I am sure that there are individual GPs who are prejudiced and uncaring, the majority are probably bumbling along trying to do their best with a fair amount of information but an appalling lack of options when it comes to referral to secondary care. Secondary care services are, as Professor Field has stated, 'patchy' and in many areas have been under severe pressure themselves during constant rounds of 'reconfiguration' (which usually means cuts). Understanding about the aetiology of, and best treatments for, these illnesses is still sketchy and a matter of furious debate among the 'experts'; so the fact that the 'average GP' has not kept up with the latest thinking should not be much of a surprise. It is, of course, a matter of concern, because, with the ever stretching of resources and threats of privatisation in secondary care, the 'average GP' is the person who, along with his or her relatives, ends up picking up the pieces for a sufferer if specialist care isn't available (as it usually isn't to most people with bulimia and a frighteningly high proportion of those with anorexia) or when it proves ineffective. I am delighted that Gordon Brown has acknowledged that late diagnosis of eating disorders is an issue, and indeed that he is interested in the illnesses at all; but if all he does about it is criticise the one group of people who are providing the majority of care then that will be a very great shame" – Marcella Brown, South West