Hitchin teenager speaks out about her six-year struggle with an eating disorder

Advanced eating disorders practitioner, Penny Smith, with her patient, Lucy Priest.

Advanced eating disorders practitioner, Penny Smith, with her patient, Lucy Priest. - Credit: Archant

A teenager who has battled with an eating disorder for six years has spoken about her struggles, after the specialist team which supports her was awarded £110,000 to recruit more staff to meet demand.

Lucy Priest, from Hitchin, has just turned 18 and has been a hospital inpatient three times during her struggle with food.

She said: “Those periods are just black. They were the most horrific times of my life.

“The first time I went into hospital I was 12 years old and was taken away from my family to a hospital in London.

“It’s not a homely environment. Doors are locked and you learn behaviours you wouldn’t otherwise pick up.

“If you want a hug from your mum or dad, you just can’t have it.”

Lucy currently receives outpatient care from the specialist eating disorders team at Hertfordshire’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

Most Read

The team has been given a funding boost of £110,000 from the East and North Herts Clinical Commissioning Group – which plans and pays for health services locally – Herts Valleys CCG and Herts County Council to pay for more staff to support additional families and do more work in the community.

Penny Smith, the team’s advanced eating disorders practitioner, sees Lucy twice a week as a patient. She said: “We’re getting more referrals than last year but are able to help young people sooner as we’ve expanded our team so that we can support more families, without long waiting lists, and we can do more educational, preventative work with training programmes in schools.”

Penny says all referrals deemed to be high risk are seen within five days and all those deemed to be low risk are seen within 15 days.

She says treatment includes helping a patient to understand their illness, and helping them to develop their resilience and coping strategies, as well as tackling the physical side of their disorder.

Penny said: “The additional funding means we can offer very intensive treatment.

“Everybody can recover, and that is the focus of treatment.”

At least one child in 10 in Hertfordshire has a diagnosable mental health problem, and work has started to transform mental health services for children and young people living in the county, following a major review of Hertfordshire’s CAMHS.

The CCGs and the county council are working together to deliver the resulting transformation plan, which secured national funding to improve services over the next five years.

Key priorities include developing community eating disorder services, focusing on prevention and early intervention to give children and young people good emotional and wellbeing support, and improving support for mums-to-be and new mothers, as there is a strong link between parental mental health and children’s mental health.

As part of the £2 million transformation plan, a pilot project was launched at 20 schools to give pupils better mental health help, with a key member of school staff having special training and linking with an NHS specialist for advice and guidance.

Doctor Prag Moodley, a Stevenage GP who leads on mental health services for the East and North Hertfordshire CCG, said: “We are so lucky to have such a dedicated and passionate specialist team working in our community eating disorders service.

“They really are unique and very much valued for supporting young people and their families through difficult times.”

She added that a well-planned transition plan is in place to gradually move young people across to the adult team if needed.

Doctor Rami Eliad, a GP who leads on services for children and young people for Herts Valleys CCG, said: “We know that by helping young people with eating disorders sooner, they are less likely to be admitted for hospital treatment, which is better for them and their families, and costs less too.”

If you, or a friend or relative, are experiencing mental health problems and are not already in contact with Hertfordshire’s CAMHS, call 0300 777 0707 between 8am and 7pm or 01438 843322 between 5pm and 8am.

For more about Hertfordshire’s CAMHS, visit www.hpftcamhs.co.uk

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter