Improving primary care services for people with eating disorders


BNSSCG CCG Research Capability Funding (Local development)

What is the research question?

How can primary care services be developed in order to improve the outcomes that matter to people with existing or emerging eating disorders by ensuring these vulnerable people receive the quality care at the right time to benefit them most?

What is the problem?

Eating disorders are a serious mental health issue affecting as many as 1.25 million people in the UK alone. For many individuals, their GP will be their first port of call in seeking help, and GPs will inevitably play a crucial role in identification of eating disorders, referral to specialist services and in ongoing monitoring and management of patients’ needs. A Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) consultation evening organised in 2016 by the Eating Disorders Health Integration Team (HIT) revealed problematic experiences of primary care services including delayed referral to specialist services. Converging with the findings of other studies, the study team’s research confirmed the need to improve primary care provision and access to specialist eating disorders services and other appropriate forms of support for people with eating disorders.

What is the aim of the research?

Improving primary care services for people with an eating disorder in order to maximise the possibility of early intervention has the potential to significantly reduce the physical, psychological and social impact of eating disorders on those affected and their families and to produce significant financial savings to the NHS and to society more broadly. The team will develop a funding application to develop and test different routes to enhance primary care provision and access to early intervention for people with an eating disorder. The intended impact of this research will be:

  • to increase the speed of primary care referral to specialist services for people seeking help for an eating disorder,
  • to see a reduction in illness duration from the point of referral,
  • to increase patients’ and carers’ satisfaction with primary care services.

How will this be achieved?

The team intend to test the feasibility and impact of different interventions to improving primary care services for people with an existing or emerging eating disorder. Two interventions are aimed at enabling GPs to rapidly provide appropriate support and referral, and two are aimed at empowering patients and carers in seeking appropriate support without delay.

Who is leading the research?

Dr Helen Malson, Associate Professor in Social Psychology, Department of Health and Social Sciences, University of the West of England.

Further information:

About Dr Helen Malson

For more information or to get involved in this project, please contact