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Medical schools urged to review GP training for eating disorders

by Jess Hacker
28 February 2022

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Medical schools in the UK have been urged to review how they teach GPs and other clinicians about eating disorders.

Beat – the eating disorder charity – said that doctors must be better equipped to identify the various disorders in patients and to intervene early.

But the RCGP refuted the suggestion that GPs are underequipped, stating that ‘it is not the case that GPs have little or no training to identify potential eating disorders in patients and refer appropriately’.

Dr Gary Howsam, vice chair, flagged that upon completing medical school and two further years of training, GP trainees will undergo three-year speciality training.

He said: ‘As part of this, through examination and continuous assessment, they must demonstrate competence of the entire GP curriculum, which has a significant focus on mental health, including eating disorders.’

In an open letter (28 February), Beat claimed that ‘less than two hours is spent on teaching about eating disorders’ in UK medical schools on average, with one-in-five not providing any training at all.

While it welcomed a growing number of medical schools ‘leading the way in providing high quality training’, it suggested teaching for the subject is on the whole insufficient.

And according to a survey conducted by the charity in 2021, it said 60% of patients with an eating disorder felt they received ‘poor care’ from their GP, with 58% feeling as though their GP ‘did not understand’ eating disorders.

Complexity of eating disorders

To provide better care for these patients, GPs need to be able to spend more time with them, said Dr Howsam.

Eating disorders, as with all mental health conditions are ‘complex’, he said, and that 10-minute consultations are not long enough ‘for GPs to have the necessary conversations with patients’.

The RCGP renewed its call for GP appointments to last a minimum of 15 minutes, despite acknowledging longer appointments would mean offering fewer, and increasing waiting times.

The increase to consultation length would need to be supported by greater recruitment efforts across all roles in practices, including GPs and mental health therapists.

Last month, a study recommended practices offer ‘unrushed’ consultations to young people with mental health concerns to maintain better continuity of care.

Offering ‘unhurried’ appointments is ‘crucial’ among 12 to 25-year-olds, who are often reluctant in engaging’ with GPs for their mental health, it said.

Meanwhile, NHS England last week announced it will begin work on an ‘implementation plan’ for new mental health waiting time standards, which include a 24-hour target for urgent mental health care.