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NHS to pilot new support service for diabetes eating disorder

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Nurses in mental health and diabetes care will team up to trial a new support service dedicated to people struggling with a rare eating disorder.

The pilot has been launched by NHS England in recognition of the growing awareness of the potentially deadly diabulimia.

“I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact that this condition can have”

Professor Jonathan Valabhji

Those affected are people with type 1 diabetes who restrict their insulin intake on purpose to lose weight.

The condition can lead to serious complications including blindness, amputations and even death.

Test sites will be set up in London and the South Coast later this year and if they are successful more services will be rolled out across the country.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England, said: “As a diabetes clinician, I’ve seen first-hand the devastating impact that this condition can have on people and their families and so these services are an important step forward in the recognition of diabulimia.”

“While diabulimia is rare it can be just as deadly”

Claire Murdoch

Two in five women and one in 10 men with type 1 diabetes are thought to have diabulimia. It is most common in 15-to-30-year-olds.

As part of the new service, patients will be coached to deal with unrealistic and potentially damaging body images on social media.

They will also be offered daily structured meal planning and clinical support to manage their insulin intake as well as therapy.

Treatment will be provided by a wide range of staff including mental health and specialist diabetes nurses.

Those behind the initiative said it would reduce emergency admissions to hospital for complications resulting from diabulimia.

Claire Murdoch

Claire Murdoch

Claire Murdoch

Claire Murdoch, national director for mental health at NHS England and a nurse by background, said: “Body image pressure is helping to drive ever increasing numbers of young people to the health service for treatment and support and while diabulimia is rare it can be just as deadly as other more common eating disorders. 

“These pilots are another important step forward but the fact is the NHS can’t do it all – wider society needs take a long hard look [at] what more we can do together to protect young people’s wellbeing,” she added.

Healthcare workers will receive new training to increase their knowledge of the condition.

Online learning will also be provided for people with diabulimia, carers and families so they can better understand the condition.

“Diabulimia is difficult to spot by healthcare professionals”

Libby Dowling

Libby Dowling, senior clinical advisor at Diabetes UK, welcomed the pilot and said she hoped the initial sites would inspire even more investment across England.

“Diabulimia is often well hidden by those living with it, and difficult to spot by healthcare professionals,” she said.

“And with as many as four in 10 women aged between 15 and 35 affected by diabulimia at some point, it’s so important that specialist – and joined-up – services like these are made available to those who need them,” Ms Dowling said.

The pilot is being launched as part of commitments made in the NHS Long Term Plan, released in January, to deliver a step change in mental health treatment and a renewed focus on children and young people’s health.

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