A RECORD number of children received treatment for eating disorders across Cheshire and Wirral last year, figures reveal.

Mental health charities say the national rise in demand for help with eating disorders during the Covid-19 pandemic is 'deeply worrying'.

NHS England data shows 229 children and young people aged under 19 started treatment for routine cases of eating disorders at Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Trust last year.

The figures cover treatment for conditions such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders.

That was up from 204 in 2019 and the highest number since comparable records began in 2017, when 82 patients were seen.

A further 11 under-19s began treatment for urgent cases last year – although this was down from 16 in 2019.

Between October and December, 700 urgent cases were seen across England – more than for any other three-month period since records began in 2016-17 and well above the 377 treated over the same period a year earlier.

Routine cases also increased to a record 2,554.

Eating disorder charity Beat said the rise was concerning but expected, as demand for its helpline services had more than doubled over the course of the pandemic.

Tom Quinn, director of external affairs, said: “It is extremely important that children and young people are able to find effective treatment quickly as the sooner someone is treated the more likely they are to make a full and fast recovery.”

NHS targets say 95 per cent of patients should begin urgent treatment within one week of referral in 2020-21, and the same proportion of routine cases should begin within four weeks.

At the Cheshire and Wirral Partnership Trust, three young people waited more than four weeks to begin routine treatment, which means 98.7 per cent received help within the timeframe.

But one patient waited more than a week to start urgent treatment last year, which means 90.9 per cent of cases were seen in time.

Across England, the proportion of urgent and routine cases seen within target times has dropped.

Mental health charity YoungMinds said it is 'deeply worrying' that more young people need support for eating disorders, and that many are waiting too long to get treatment.

Tom Madders, director of communications and campaigns, said: “The factors behind eating disorders are often complex, but the pandemic has left many young people isolated, uncertain about the future and less in control.

"Many may also have lost access to their usual routines and coping mechanisms.

“Early support can make a huge difference and prevent problems from escalating.”

He added that the Government must 're-double its efforts' to improve NHS services.

Mental health minister Nadine Dorries said: “I know just how important it is that people with an eating disorder get the support they need when they need it.

“We are investing more each year in community eating disorder services for adults, children and young people.

"We know early intervention is vital which is why NHS England is launching early intervention services for young people with eating disorders, meaning they could begin treatment within two weeks."

An NHS spokesman added: "The pandemic turned lives upside down and hit young people particularly hard, but community eating disorder services continue to step up to treat increasing numbers that require care."