Historic moment for eating disorders in Australia

Eating Disorders Families Australia is thrilled about the Federal Government announcements yesterday to increase funding for eating disorder treatment and research, marking an historical turning point for the more than one million Australians living with eating disorders. EDFA Deputy Chair was in Sydney for the announcement.

The Federal Government has committed to an estimated $111million reform of Medicare, through the creation of a specific item number for eating disorders, increasing the number of rebated psychological sessions from 10 to up to 40 in any calendar year, under the Medicare Benefits Schedule(MBS), and rebated dietetic sessions will also increase to up to 20 in any one year from November 2019.

Apart from the current MBS system rebating insufficient sessions for evidence-based treatment from mental health professionals and dietetics, families and carers have largely borne the cost of these treatments,alongside other costs such as loss of income and impact on families overall.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, “One of the things we have to do is raise the level of awareness about this and the understanding that it is real. It is real.”

“We are pleased to do our bit, to step up and do our part. It is our commitment. I’m so glad that Greg has seized upon this and made that happen.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt echoed his remarks saying, “Today is about saving lives and protecting lives. This is the day Australia says we hear, we get it and it will never be the same again.”

Jana Pittman, InsideOut Ambassador, who had a lived experience of an eating disorder herself for many years presented the reality of living with an eating disorder and noted the impact on her family – “My main concern is that no one else has to endure what I did, having an illness that was stigmatised, hidden, shameful and with very few available treatment options that I could see or find”

Fiona Ryan, mother of Tess Ryan who lost her life to an eating disorder, spoke incredibly eloquently about the experience of caring for someone with an eating disorder. Like many of us, Fiona Ryan spent five long years trying to save her daughter’s life. She and her husband would sit with their daughter Tessa every day, coaxing her to eat, checking her pockets and sleeves for hidden food, looking under her tongue for that last hidden piece of toast. Fiona slept in the bed next to Tessa to make sure she wasn’t waking up to exercise, took long amounts of leave without pay and watched her family go into debt as they battled to keep Tessa alive. “Our family felt like we fought on two fronts, we fought an eating disorder and we felt we fought the system in order to get recognition, support and the treatment that Tessneeded,” Fiona said on Sunday. Tessa lost her battle with anorexia nervosa at the age of 17. If you want to hear more of Fiona’s brave story, please view a video EDFA made earlier this year “Our Families’ Story” at https://youtu.be/anDnIvu4FjI.

As families and carers, we must be assured that any provider accessing this item is practicing evidence based treatment. Details on eligibility for the Medicare Item numbers and how treatment providers will be eligible to provide them is still to be worked out and this is what will be happening in preparation for the November 2019 release. While we know families are desperate for this now, this must be executed properly and judicially to ensure that when you take your loved one to a provider, you know you are getting the best treatment.

Given Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s letter to the PM yesterday calling for a bipartisan approach to the national crisis that is eating disorders, we look forward to this Medicare funding being the first step in a range of supports for eating disorders, including a greater range of supports for families and carers to play the critical role they play in recovery with eating disorders.

Other announcements today were funding of $4m for Inside OutInstitute which is national research institute for eating disorders. Dr Maguire from InsideOut says “The announcement of funding for InsideOut – Australia’s national research & translation institute for eating disorders – marks the first time eating disorders have been identified as a priority for national research funding, along with the million minds announcement of eating disorders as a priority area, this opens enormous possibilities for what we can develop for people with these illnesses and those that support them”

“We cannot change what people and families receive and stop unnecessary deaths, unless we are forward thinking, always researching and always innovating, and that is why a national institute for research and translation supported by government is essential” Dr Maguire says.

The funding will go towards building research infrastructure and clinical translation capacity, including a national strategy for research and translation in eating disorders involving all states and jurisdictions.

The final announcement made today was the appointment of Christine Morgan to the position of CEO of the National Mental Health Commission. At EDFA we have been very grateful for Christine’s support of EDFA as a representative for families and carers of those with an eating disorder.Christine’s stanch advocacy for eating disorders and persistence has seen the funding of a range of game changers in eating disorders from the establishment of the NEDC through to today’s announcements. We thank her for her work and we look forward to working with her in her new role!

EDFA will continue to advocate for families and carers on a range of fronts on eating disorders!

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