Young people with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa have every chance of reaching a cure thanks to proven, intensive treatment, according to staff at The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH).
This week, the State Government announced $3 million additional funding for the RCH Eating Disorders Program – a commitment welcomed by RCH staff and families.
Director of the RCH Centre for Adolescent Health, Professor Susan Sawyer, says the funding is a coup for Victorians, with adolescent services often overlooked in funding decisions despite the high prevalence of eating disorders in this age group.
“I’ve been working with young people with eating disorders for the past 17 years. Given the benefits of investing in curative treatments for anorexia nervosa in adolescence, we’re absolutely delighted with these new funds,” Professor Sawyer said.
The Victorian Government has allocated the funding over three years to enable the RCH to increase the award-winning intensive support it provides young people with eating disorders and their families.
“Four years ago, funding from the Baker Foundation meant that the RCH Eating Disorder Program was able to implement world’s best practice for eating disorders, known as family based treatment (FBT) or the Maudsley treatment. Since then, we have seen a dramatic improvement in our clinical results,” Professor Sawyer said.
The revolutionary treatment is guided by a team of adolescent and mental health clinicians whose focus is empowering parents to form a key part of the healing process. Parents are actively engaged in their child’s refeeding at home by supervising every meal, even if this takes hours of support and encouragement.
Professor Sawyer says FBT has contributed to a 75 per cent drop in readmission rates at the RCH, with 97 per cent of those who complete the program recovering fully and many teenagers weight restored within six months.
“Previously, treatment failure was the norm. After many years of unsuccessful treatment, we commonly had to ‘graduate’ our older adolescents to adult services as they failed to recover. The introduction of FBT means that we now aim for cure in adolescence,” she said.
Seventeen-year-old Lucinda Caldwell has been undergoing FBT for anorexia nervosa with the RCH Eating Disorder Program for 13 months. Her mother Belinda Caldwell was thrilled to hear of the government’s funding allocation and says it provides hope to other families who were not able to access the program.
“We feel blessed for having the journey we’ve had with our daughter’s eating disorder thanks to The Royal Children’s Hospital program. The approach has made it far simpler for us by diagnosing Lucinda early, offering a clear treatment pathway and taking so much of the stress away from us as a family,” Mrs Caldwell said.
“Lucinda is not out of the woods yet, but she’s medically stable and hasn’t been readmitted since she commenced the program in April last year. Every day we thank our lucky stars,” she said.
Professor Sawyer says despite the success of the RCH Eating Disorders Program, which won a Victorian Public Healthcare Award in 2011, there remain families who find the journey more difficult than others.
“These new funds will enable us to provide more intensive support for those young people who continue to struggle with anorexia nervosa despite FBT. For families struggling with a child with this disorder, these funds will be a lifeline,” she said.