The Goodmayes service helping eating disorder sufferers to go on to live ‘happy and fulfilled’ lives

09:00 31 May 2014

The eating disorder service team

The eating disorder service team


Eating disorders have been under the spotlight for many years, but the glare has become even brighter with the apparent rise in sufferers.

Lucy Serpell and Rory HartnettLucy Serpell and Rory Hartnett

Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show there were 2,560 hospital admissions for sufferers in England during the 12 months leading up to October, a rise of 8 per cent.

But treatment for eating disorders is not just provided at hospitals, as a Redbridge-based service shows.

The North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT) has been running a service out of the Goodmayes Hospital site since 2009 and helps sufferers regain a “normal” life through a series of therapy sessions.

Manager Rory Harnett, 41, said: “Prior to us, there was no specialised service. People would have gone to their GPs and they would have struggled with where to send them.

Eating disorders in numbers

1.6 million

people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder

One in 250

women will experience anorexia nervosa at some stage

One in 2,000

men will experience anorexia nervosa at some stage

16 or 17

the age when the condition usually develops


of bulimia sufferers are female and the disorder is five times more common than anorexia nervosa

18 or 19

the common age bulimia develops

30 or 40

the age when binge eating more commonly occurs


of eating disorder sufferers are anorexic


are bulimic

Information from Beat and the NHS

“We treat people across the age range, from adults to children.”

Every week, staff at the service see approximately 80 to 100 people.

In a typical day, the therapists each see five patients in 50 minute slots, mainly using the techniques of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

There are also dieticians, specialist nurses and psychiatrists on the team.

Lucy Serpell, the clinical lead at the service and a clinical psychologist, said: “Cognitive behavioural therapy tries to understand the link between how people think and how we feel. Other therapies see people talk about their childhood, but CBT isn’t really like that.

“Here we talk about the problem at the moment; we are worried about what’s keeping it [the disorder] going.”

The treatment attempts to change patients’ thoughts and feelings by getting them to change their behaviour.

Activities can include sufferers being challenged to try foods they usually avoid and come in wearing “normal” clothes rather than covering up in layers.

They are also educated to understand how “being underweight can be as unhealthy as being overweight”.

It has been cited that the numbers of young people suffering from eating disorders has risen, but that is not the case for the Goodmayes service.

Mr Harnett said: “We have certainly not had a rise in young people at all.

“From say 2011 to the present, the maximum number of young people we have had as inpatients is six and in 2011-12 it was four. So we have not had an increase at all in people ­under 18.”

Some eating disorders are more prevalent in the patients than others, with bulimia and EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) the most common.

However, other disorders are beginning to be seen more. Ms Serpell said: “We see a lot of people with binge eating [disorder] now.

“It is not that there are more people with it, GPs are just getting used to it being a disorder.

“It is just as serious a disorder, so it is a good thing that it is being taken more seriously.”

The journey back to full health can be complex. Typically bulimia sufferers have approximately 20 sessions at the service, with anorexia nervosa patients having about 40. However, some patients may be making strides after 10 sessions.

Mr Harnett said: “In terms of recovery it is so i­ndividual.

“Complete recovery would be no more anorexic thinking and going on to lead a full life.”

Ms Serpell added: “The things that stay with me are when people have really made massive changes in their lives.

“People think when they have an eating disorder that things can never get better, but they can go on to live a happy and fulfilled life.”

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