Press release

New universal treatment for eating disorders recommended by Chief Medical Officer

All patients suffering from eating disorders – wherever they live and whatever their age or specific diagnosis – should be given prompt access to a new treatment on the NHS, according to a new recommendation by the Chief Medical Officer that aims to tackle the growing problem of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

The treatment, called enhanced cognitive behaviour therapy or 'CBT-E', was developed with extensive long-term funding from the Wellcome Trust at the University of Oxford's Centre for Research on Eating Disorders. CBT-E is the first treatment for eating disorders to show positive results for patients of all ages and diagnoses.

Today, in her key recommendations for the NHS, which accompany the 2015 annual report entitled Health of the 51%: Women, the Chief Medical Officer has said that NHS England should commission services to deliver CBT-E.

In the UK it is estimated that at least 725,000 people suffer from eating disorders, of which roughly 10% are male and 90% are female. Figures published in 2014 by the Health and Care Information Centre showed that there has been a steady rise in hospital admissions due to eating disorders since 2005-6, an increase of approximately 7% each year.

CBT-E is the product of an extended programme of clinical research funded by the Wellcome Trust. Over the past 15 years a series of randomised control trials into its potential use as a treatment have been carried out in the UK, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Italy and the USA.

The Wellcome Trust has also supported a new form of online training for therapists to deliver CBT-E so that the treatment can be implemented quickly. In the past the slow training of therapists has been a major barrier to the implementation of new psychological treatments. Using the new method, over 700 therapists worldwide have received web-centred training in CBT-E in the past 18 months.

Professor Christopher Fairburn, who developed the treatment at the Centre for Research on Eating Disorders at the University of Oxford, and who has worked in this field for over 30 years said: "For the first time there is a single effective treatment that works across all the eating disorders – including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating – and in all age groups. The treatment will simplify the work of clinicians and lead to the improved health of patients."

Dr John Isaac, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, said: "Eating disorders can be devastating and, worryingly, we are seeing a steady increase in the number of patients who are affected. CBT-E is a powerful demonstration of how careful development of new psychological therapies, supported by large-scale clinical trials, can bring treatment within reach. I hope that the introduction of this new service will make a difference to patients' lives."

Lorna Garner, Chief Operating Officer of Beat, the charity that supports people with eating disorders, said: "Beat has long been campaigning for patients with eating disorders to be given prompt access to therapies that have an evidence base of effectiveness. We are greatly encouraged by this recommendation from the Chief Medical Officer that if implemented will have a dramatic and positive impact on a very large proportion of the individuals diagnosed with eating disorders. Beat's Costs of Eating Disorders Social, Health and Economic Impact Report demonstrates that early intervention not only has the best outcome for patients but also has a very positive impact on the economy and society as a whole."