Illawarra residents suffering eating disorders will still have to travel to Sydney for intensive treatment despite a new $15 million state government plan to tackle illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia.
An adult eating disorder day program will be established in Newcastle as part of the government's five-year plan, which will also enhance existing day programs on the Central Coast and at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
There will also be an increase in adult treatment beds from four to nine - six at RPA and three at Westmead - as part of the NSW Service Plan for People with Eating Disorders. As well, there will be a focus on early intervention with a pilot child and adolescent eating disorder day program to be established at Crows Nest.
Ella Graham, who started the Fed Up NSW Health lobby group last year to demand more government funding for eating disorder treatment, said the plan was a "good step forward".
But while she welcomed the extra beds and early intervention measures, she said there was still a gap in services for adults and those outside the Sydney metropolitan area.
"This plan doesn't fix the immediate problem of 30 acutely ill patients on the waiting list for RPA," she said. "And it certainly doesn't address the issues faced in rural and regional areas as people still have to travel from these areas to Sydney for acute treatment."
However, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner, who launched the plan last week alongside Mental Health Minister Kevin Humphries, said rural and regional areas would benefit from the establishment of "clinical networks", which would provide a range of treatment options across NSW.
"Through this plan, we will increase access to inpatient and community-based services, build the capacity of our clinicians to treat those with eating disorders and support the ability of people with eating disorders in regional communities to get earlier and more effective treatment," she said.
Mr Humphries said the child and adolescent day program would provide accommodation support for regional and rural families.
Telehealth case conferencing and supervision would also allow more care to be provided closer to patients' homes.
"Local clinicians have often lacked the confidence to treat people with an eating disorder, creating additional pressures on specialist services," he said.
Butterfly Foundation chief executive Christine Morgan said the organisation would run the child and adolescent day program in conjunction with the Sydney Children's Hospitals Network.
She said a key focus was on improving access for patients and families in rural and regional NSW.
"We know that a six- to eight-week program is a long time to be away from home for a child or adolescent from a regional area," she said.
"So instead, they have the option of a five-day intensive program - with accommodation support for their families - and then telehealth conferencing and supervision will ensure their home GPs and specialists have close contact with clinicians in Sydney."