Gerringong woman Rebekah McAlinden has spoken out about the dire shortage of hospital beds for adults with eating disorders and demanded health authorities stop depriving Illawarra sufferers of vital services.
Miss McAlinden is sharing details of her own battle with anorexia nervosa to draw attention to the shortage of specialist beds, long waiting lists and general lack of services for unwell NSW men and women.
The 19-year-old, who was diagnosed in 2009 and then with bulimia nervosa in 2010, overdosed while waiting for an appointment at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital's eating disorder clinic.
Even then she could not secure one of just two specialist eating disorder treatment beds available to adults across the state.
Physically unwell and drained from the train travel, Miss McAlinden lasted only four days as an outpatient at the clinic and dropped out after being told to "move to Sydney or quit the program".
But the young woman was determined to survive, and with the help of her church community and health workers in the Shoalhaven has "fully recovered".
"The whole experience has shown me there are large holes in the NSW Health system," said Miss McAlinden, who is studying for an Advanced Diploma of Theology and looking forward to her 20th birthday.
"Individuals shouldn't need to move away from their friends and family or travel long distances to gain the essential support for an eating disorder," she said.
"They shouldn't have to sit around for months on end, waiting to receive treatment for an eating disorder that could take their life at any moment.
"They shouldn't be turned away from an inpatient eating disorders clinic when the treatment could save them."
Miss McAlinden is supporting an online petition and campaign called Fed Up NSW Health, started by Sydney 23-year-old Ella Graham.
Yesterday Ms Graham said she herself was desperate for treatment and looking at options in Geelong, Brisbane and Perth as she was unable to get an inpatient bed in NSW.
"I've been told that I'll likely be waiting until 2013 for a public inpatient bed," she said.
"Two treatment beds in the state are simply inadequate. The extensive wait lists, both for public and private treatment options, are excessive."
Ms Graham's website, set up less than two weeks ago, has already had 4000 hits and support is growing on Facebook and Twitter. Other Illawarra residents have also come forward with their problems getting treatment.
Minister for Mental Health Kevin Humphries said yesterday the government was working to "equip clinicians throughout NSW to identify and treat eating disorders so that treatment can commence as early as possible and as close to the person's support system as possible".
Mr Humphries said additional specialist early intervention and step-down care programs were based alongside RPA and in a stand-alone community facility at Wyong, with specialist inpatient treatment where required.
Rebekah McAlinden blogs about her recovery from an eating disorder at www.risforrecovery.wordpress.com.
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