Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust (LPT), along with Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, has received £35,000 funding to deliver a new early intervention model to improve support for young adults with eating disorders.

This is part of a national NHS drive to transform community mental health services across the country. NHS England and NHS Improvement has announced that it will provide £630,000 in funding during the 2020/21 financial year to 18 sites across the country.

With this funding, the trusts will implement the First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders (FREED). This is an evidence-based early intervention model for eating disorders, tailored to young people’s needs. Developed six years ago by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, it provides rapid access, high-quality care for people in the early stages of illness when treatment is most likely to be effective.

The model enables providers to start treatment within four weeks of referral to an eating disorder service, for eligible adults aged 16-25. It also attends to the specific needs of young people in the early stages of an eating disorder. It emphasises early, pro-active engagement; early symptom change; family involvement; attention to the effects of eating disorders on the brain; attention to social media use; and attention to transitions (out of school, to university, into work) and ‘emerging adulthood’. FREED operates as a ‘service within a service’. It complements, rather than replaces, existing eating disorder services and treatments, to provide the most appropriate care and reduce waiting times.

A two-year follow-up study on FREED, published October last year, showed that patients who were treated for anorexia nervosa via FREED had better weight outcomes and reduced need for day/inpatient care, compared to patients that were treated via standard care pathways.

LPT will start working to put this evidence-based intervention in place straight away. The funding is being used to appoint a part-time FREED Champion within the eating disorders service to deliver the early intervention.

This will enable patients to receive faster and personalised care. The aim is for referred patients to receive a telephone call within 48 hours and to be offered an assessment within two weeks and, if appropriate, treatment within four weeks. It is estimated that 60-70% of all people aged 16-25 who are referred will be eligible. The model is designed to meet the needs of young adults, considering aspects such as social media, the transition to university and emerging adulthood. The aim is to reduce the duration of untreated eating disorders and intervene before the behaviours become embedded and more difficult to address, which can have a significant impact on the patient and their health.

The roll-out of FREED across the 18 sites who have received funding is supported by the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) – a unique network of 15 regional AHSN organisations with expertise in testing, evaluating and spreading innovation within the NHS and a specialist understanding of their local system and specific local needs. The East Midlands AHSN will support the roll-out of this intervention across LPT and Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

Further work is being undertaken by the East Midlands AHSN to support NHS sites in the region that haven’t received funding, and supporting local Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) to apply for community mental health transformation funding, proposals will include the FREED model and would hope to enable the sustainability of the intervention.

Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national director for mental health, said: “The funding will support our ambition to expand services and improve access to early intervention, treatment and support for young people with eating disorders meeting the rising demand for such services.

“The NHS Long Term Plan will see an additional £1 billion a year by 2023/24 to expand and improve community mental health care so adults, including those with an eating disorder, can get early access to care, as close to home as possible.”

Nicole McGlennon, Managing Director of East Midlands AHSN, said: “We are delighted that two of our trusts in the East Midlands are amongst the 18 new services across England to receive funding to implement the FREED model of care for young people aged 16-25 years.

“Early intervention in eating disorders is shown to lead to substantial improvements in clinical outcomes at a critical time of transition and development and is highly acceptable to both patients and families. Implementing this intervention will have a significant impact on those that will now be able to access the intervention in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. We intend to support these trusts and all mental health trusts across the East Midlands with their applications for future funding to support their mental health services and look forward to seeing the impacts of adopting this method in our area.”

Debbie Whight, Clinical Team Manager for Leicestershire Adult Eating Disorders Service, said: “We are really excited to be part of this national programme, which will make such a difference for young people with eating disorders. FREED, with its focus on early intervention and treatment, is a highly effective model and we are keen to implement this in our team as soon as possible. We  have a wealth of information, advice and resources on our website www.leicestereatingdisorders.co.uk for patients, carers and health care professionals. If you are concerned that you might have an eating disorder, talk to your GP who can refer you to the service.”