Anorexic and bulimic West Australians are dying while waiting for hospital beds and families are travelling interstate and overseas to seek adequate treatment, an internal Health Department report reveals.
Despite eating disorders being the 12th leading cause of hospitalisation in Australia and 16-to-24-year-olds accounting for 55 per cent of hospital admissions for eating disorders in WA, there is no dedicated in-hospital care for the age group, with WA the only State that does not offer it.
The report found youths with eating disorders who did manage to get inpatient care, usually in "ill-equipped" adult mental health units, made up fewer than five of the 28 recorded deaths of sufferers treated in WA between 2006 and 2011.
"This suggests that there are individuals with eating disorders who are known to the public health system who die without an inpatient stay in a public hospital, reflecting an inadequacy in the system of care," the report said.
"The WA public health system is not meeting the in-patient needs of youth with eating disorders."
It found youths with eating disorders often required "periods of acute intervention followed by low-level continuing care", but patients diagnosed at 16 or older were ineligible for dedicated children's beds at Princess Margaret Hospital.
The report, compiled by a working group of 11 public and private specialists, recommended funding four dedicated beds at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital to treat 70 youths a year.
Health Minister Kim Hames said the report was being considered by the Mental Health Commission as part of its 10-year mental health services plan, due early next year.
Working group member David Forbes, from the University of WA's school of paediatrics and child health and PMH's eating disorders program, said WA was quite well-served by outpatient treatment options.
Although many patients could be managed primarily in the mental health sector, all were at risk of medical complications and needed "physical medicine surveillance".
"There is a gap in services in WA for the older teenager and young adult with severe eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa," Professor Forbes said.