Friday, 4 January 2008

Hannah's Story

Today I post another article from The Scotsman about the struggles of another sufferer of anorexia - Hannah Downie but Hannah is not just another sufferer, not just a statistic. She is a young girl who was desperately ill with a family who have been left to struggle with her illness.

This is like the dark ages. No treatment here! No beds here! Go home! Sent home ... to die?

Imagine being Hannah's mother: seeing her daughter at six stones, desperate to help her daughter, desperate to get her daughter to eat, desperate to halt the downward spiral but helpless because of the iron grip of the anorexia.

Imagine being Hannah's brother or sister: seeing the sister you've grown up with, played with, fought with and love, shrivel away to six stones.

Imagine being Hannah: terribly ill, doing terrible damage to your body but not ill enough.

Imagine all this and still there is no treatment.

Imagine the pot-bellied politicians playing their stupid political games discovering that their daughters were like Hannah. Suddenly this would be a priority because suddenly they would understand what it's like to be Hannah's mother or father or brother or sister and they would care desperately.

Pot-bellied politicians, imagine NOW what it is like being Hannah's mother and act NOW to save lives.

And now, after the lecture, the article about Hannah.

"Hannah Downie, 17, is seriously underweight. But despite the severity of her condition, doctors are unable to help her because of a lack of services in Scotland. The teenager has been forced to give up school because she is so ill and her parents fear she is losing a race against time to get the help she needs. Faced with the prospect of a daughter who refuses to eat, Barbara Downie, Hannah's mother, was told by doctors to treat the girl at home.

"I've run out of hope," the mother-of-five said yesterday. "Hannah doesn't want to eat. She's admitted she would happily starve herself to death. She needs proper medical help but she's not getting it. "The NHS doesn't have enough beds and they're dragging their heels about getting her into a private clinic."

Hannah, from Brechin in Angus, was a normal, healthy teenager, and weighed around nine stone until a year ago.
Her mother said she noticed a gradual change in her behaviour as she became more quiet and self-conscious. Her weight has now fallen to dangerous levels and she is at risk of heart attacks and osteoporosis. Hannah, who is 5ft 6ins tall, has been prescribed prozac and spends most of her time cooped up in the family home.

Her story highlights the growing problem of anorexia in Britain and the lack of adequate facilities. Experts insist Scotland trails behind England in its approach to treating people with eating disorders. Last July, Bryan Lask, professor of child and adolescent psychology at the University of London and one of Britain's foremost experts on anorexia and bulimia, told The Scotsman that the system for treating people with eating disorders in Scotland was "positively dangerous". And last June, a damning report into the death of Lindsay Weddell, who died aged 20 weighing just six stone after suffering anorexia, accused health boards across Scotland of failing to provide "vitally important" services for people with eating disorders.

The NHS in England must follow official guidelines for treating those with the illness, but in Scotland there is no specific advice for GPs and only two centres operated by private companies to treat anorexics and bulimics. There are no specialist adult in-patient beds for severely ill patients, yet in each GP practice there are estimated to be at least two people with anorexia and up to 20 with bulimia. Specialist care is delivered through private clinics in Edinburgh and Glasgow, costing around £3,000 per patient per week.

Ms Downie sought medical advice and Hannah was diagnosed with anorexia, but as there are so few NHS beds for anorexia sufferers, Hannah was sent home. Ms Downie says she can't afford to send Hannah to a private clinic. Hannah, who has a body mass index (BMI) of just 14.2, said: "I didn't feel good about myself. I thought losing weight would make me feel better. It hasn't. I just want all this to go away."

Around one in every 100 young people aged between 12 and 25 in Britain has anorexia. The incidence of bulimia is at its worst among college-aged people, where 4 per cent of the population has the disease. And the age profile of anorexia sufferers is falling, with the youngest recorded case in Britain just eight-years-old.

Diane Whiteoak, of the Huntercombe Hospital in Edinburgh which specialises in eating disorders, said:"A BMI of 14 or less is a very serious condition. It's at this point some people find themselves unable to function properly. People who live with anorexia can't live a normal life. It has a huge impact and causes upset [for] the people around them."

A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside refused to discuss Hannah's case, but said: "Any patient in Tayside clinically assessed as requiring inpatient care for an eating disorder will be admitted to hospital in the NHS or private sector." "

Would a child suffering from cancer or heart disease be treated in the same way as Hannah? No, of course not. There would be an outcry if a child with cancer was sent away from hospital to be treated at home and there should be an outcry about cases like Hannah's. Please shout with me.

I wonder how Hannah is now. I hope she has survived.

My heart goes out to Hannah and her family and to all who suffer with, or alongside, eating disorders.


  1. It's one I have to cope with too, having much to do with girls of late teenage in my work. By then most have got past it but there are still some. Difficult issue.

  2. I have a 14 year old with the same illness and we have an appointment every other week with a psychiatrist/dietician, this is not enough as she is spiralling downward. there is only so much a family can do, there needs to be more specialised treatment centres because more and more young lives are being lost as a result of lack of funding as well as the illness being recognised and being understood. each day you watch your child getting weaker and battling with their demons, these youngsters need help now!

  3. Anonymous

    You are so right. Young lives lost needlessly. More funds and time is all it takes.

    I feel for you. I can't imagine how it must feel to have your daughter getting weaker day by day and having no real help.

    I hope all turns out well eventually.

    Keep fighting.