Eating Disorder Awareness Week: AHSN NENC proud to support regional roll out of national FREED approach

Posted on March 1

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During Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2022, the AHSN NENC is joining forces with NHS partners across the region, to highlight the importance of FREED (First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders) in tackling eating disorders.

One in 50 people in the UK experience an eating disorder at some point in their life, many of whom are adolescents and young people. If action is taken and problems are addressed early enough, further long-term damage and problems can be prevented.

FREED is an innovative service for 16 – 25 year olds who have had an eating disorder for three years or less, enabling rapid access to specialised treatment which gives special attention to the challenges young people face during these years of their lives, and in the early stages of an eating disorder.

The AHSN Network, in partnership with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) and Kings College London (KCL), is leading on the national scaling of FREED. It has already recruited 45 FREED Champions across England, 33 Eating Disorder Services across England have adopted the programme and 960 young people have accessed evidence-based treatment, on average 10 -12 weeks faster than treatment as usual. The overall aim is to ensure that all young people across England have rapid access to treatment by 2023.

Here in the North East and North Cumbria, AHSN NENC has been working in partnership with Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV), the Integrated Care System Mental Health Programme, the Eating Disorder Provider Collaborative and Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW), to support the roll out of the FREED approach across the region and bridge the gap between children’s and adult services.

TEWV was supported by the Academic Health Science Network NENC and the NENC ICS to be one of 18 accelerated implementation sites across England for FREED.

Under the FREED approach, people referred to TEWV’s eating disorder services are contacted by a dedicated eating disorder nurse within 48 hours of referral to talk about their condition and put in place next steps in terms of care and treatment. Anyone needing specialist secondary mental health care then receives treatment within four weeks to provide help and support and quickly as possible and help prevent longer-term behaviour patterns and problems emerging.

FREED overcomes barriers to early treatment and recovery and provides highly coordinated early care, with a central focus on reducing the duration of an untreated eating disorder. It consists of a service model and a care package coordinated by a FREED champion employed by each trust.

TEWV Senior Eating Disorders Practitioner, David Tate, said: “We’ve implemented the FREED pathway across children’s and adult services in order to reach 16–25-year-olds and to date this has helped over 60 young people to receive quick access to specialist eating disorder treatment and support.”

Following the success of the pathway in TEWV’s North East services, there is a shared commitment and drive to further embed the FREED approach across the North East and North Cumbria. TEWV is working with neighbouring NHS mental health trust Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) to expand the approach.

Andrew McMinn, Associate Director for Neurological and Specialist Services at CNTW, said: “We are excited to be working closely with TEWV and our Clinical Commissioning Groups to implement the FREED model across the communities we serve. The evidence is clear that the earlier we can provide people with support, the better outcomes they can have. In North Cumbria our teams are applying FREED principles to fast-track people struggling with eating disorders into assessment and treatment, and we have also established a dedicated Community Adult Eating Disorder Service working within our Community Mental Health Teams across the north east – and more work is underway to further embed the FREED model throughout our services.”

Paul Johnson, Mental Health Workstream Lead at the AHSN NENC, which is supporting regional partners to take the FREED approach forward, said: “We are delighted to have supported TEWV to become an accelerated implementation site for the FREED approach across both its children’s and adult services. It is a credit to all involved that this has been implemented during times of extremely high pressure both on services and on the people who use them, and we look forward to building on this excellent work.

“The progress made to date by David and the team at TEWV to implement FREED has been fantastic, and it’s incredibly encouraging to see the benefits it is already bringing to people accessing the service.

“There is a shared commitment and drive to further embed the FREED approach across the North East and North Cumbria and we look forward to continuing to work closely with TEWV, the Integrated Care System Mental Health Programme, the Eating Disorder Provider Collaborative and Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust on this important work going forward.”

If you are worried you may have an eating disorder or concerned someone you know might have an eating disorder, please speak to your GP or local mental health service.