PATIENTS suffering from severe eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia would be treated at Scotland's first dedicated unit under plans revealed yesterday.
St John's Hospital in Howden, in Livingston, West Lothian, would house the specialist ward, where sufferers from across the country would receive treatment that is expected to be radically different from that provided in psychiatric units.
A major criticism of the present system is that patients with eating disorders are often kept in wards with those suffering from more extreme forms of mental illness.
The new unit will allow health professionals and psychologists to dedicate more time to getting to the root of specific eating problems.
Campaigners have welcomed the plans, which come in the wake of demands for an overhaul of treatment for eating disorders in Scotland.
Currently, there are few NHS services for such patients – many in the east of Scotland are referred to the Royal Edinburgh psychiatric hospital.
Doctors have to refer extreme cases to private centres such as Huntercombe Edinburgh Hospital in Uphall, West Lothian and the Priory in Glasgow.
Although fewer than 250 people a year are diagnosed with eating disorders in Scotland, experts believe the number of undiagnosed cases is far higher. It is thought that 83,000 Scots have some form of eating disorder.
In a landmark case involving the treatment of anorexia sufferer Lindsay Weddell, 20, who died five years ago at St John's weighing just six stone, health boards across Scotland were accused of failing to provide "vitally important" services for people with eating disorders.
Ms Weddell had been moved between nine treatment centres across the UK in the six years that she suffered from the condition.
Her mother, Louise Weddell, who has led calls for an overhaul of the treatment of eating disorders in Scotland, said last night: "I've no doubt my daughter would be alive today if this kind of facility had existed when she was being treated. She was really ill and practically at death's door when we were able to get her treated in a private hospital.
"We ended up having to travel all the way to a hospital in Kent to get her treated on the NHS, which was just horrendous."
A report for NHS Lothian, which runs St John's Hospital, revealed the unit will provide a more dedicated service to help those with psychological problems related to food.
It states: "A proposal to develop a 12-bedded in-patient unit at St John's Hospital for people with severe eating disorders will be presented (to a planning group in due course]."
An overhaul of eating disorder services in the Lothians area has seen a consultant psychiatrist brought in and a training network established so that when the unit is created staff are ready to use it to the maximum effect.
Mary George, spokeswoman for the Beat eating disorders campaign (formerly the National Eating Disorders Association), said: "For many years, people all over the country have had to travel many miles to access specialist treatment that they need for these severe psychiatric conditions.
"The fact that a new unit is opening in Livingston is very good news."
Scots Olympic cycling star Craig MacLean last year became the latest in a long list of sports stars, including fellow cyclist Chris Boardman and Formula 1 racing driver David Coulthard, to admit to eating disorders.