Average waiting times for mental health treatment for eating disorders in England can vary from 20 days to 180 depending on the trust, figures show.
Data from 41 of the 55 mental health trusts collected by BBC Breakfast also found that 1,576 people have waited 18 weeks to see a specialist since 2012, 742 waited 26 weeks and 99 a year.
Eating disorder charity Beat said early intervention was critical.
The Department of Health said it was working to cut waiting times.
‘Tight funding levels’
According to the data released following BBC Breakfast Freedom of Information requests, waiting times for outpatient treatment have risen by 120% in some areas over the past four years, with patients routinely waiting more than 100 days for a specialist.
The average wait was 182 days in Manchester but about 20 days in Dorset, Dudley and north-east London.
Humber NHS Trust saw an 165% increase in waiting times since 2012. The average wait in 2015 was 82 days. The average wait in Kent and Medway was 116 days.
Five mental health trusts responded by saying they did not provide an eating disorder service at all.
Manchester Mental Health and Social Care NHS Trust said: “Where urgent, patients are seen within approximately two weeks. Waiting times for therapy are longer than we would wish.
“If more services were commissioned, more services could be provided. The trust continues to work within tight funding levels and with increasing demand.”
Humber NHS Foundation Trust said funding was provided last year for three specialist nurses to provide day treatment, usually over a period of many months, for children and young people.
Beat called for more investment in mental health treatment for eating disorders.
The government introduced new targets for mental health last week but waiting times for adult eating disorder services were not included.
The Department of Health said it was developing a pathway for treating adults with eating disorders and that its goal was that by 2020, 95% of patients would be seen within four weeks, or one week, for urgent cases.
“People with eating disorders must get high quality care as early as possible – and while this is happening in some places, there is far too much variation,” a spokesman said.
“That is why we’re investing £150 million to develop community services in every area of the country for children and young people, and have set a target for routine care to be available within four weeks and urgent care within one week by 2020.”
It said there had been an 8% decrease in eating disorders in the 12 months to January compared with the previous year.
Lauren Spaven-Donn, Edinburgh
In my early twenties, I was diagnosed as anorexic, going from approximately eight stone (50kg) to five-and-a-half stone (35kg) over a matter of months.
When I was first referred to hospital for counselling by my GP, I was probably just over seven stone (44kg), eating virtually nothing and running upwards of 10 miles every day. I was unable to work or hold a really social life because of my illness.
I was told in the one-off assessment that there were long waiting lists and those with the most severe problems were at the top of the list.
The words of the therapist still stick with me: “Obviously if you lose weight you will move higher up the list and be seen more quickly.”
Over the next few months I lost another two stone and became virtually a skeleton.
My peri ods stopped and my family came very close to having me hospitalised. This may have been in part because appropriate therapy was not available to me at the time when I still might have been able to prevent the decline continuing.
It has taken me nearly ten years to get back to the weight I was before anorexia and it is not the sort of illness that ever truly leaves you.
I can’t stress enough how vital it is that more consideration and investment is given to the unde
Mental health NHS