Anorexia survivor leads campaign for hospital beds

WHAT began as a ‘‘health kick’’ for Tara Peak turned out to be the greatest health challenge of her life.

The 22-year-old became a vegan in 2010 but within months her preoccupation with food snowballed into anorexia nervosa.

At her lowest weight in early 2011 she fainted regularly, suffered seizures, irregular heartbeat and anaemia.

She was a regular to the emergency department and her doctor told her she had three months to live.

What she needed most was a hospital bed but was shocked to discover there were just two public beds in all NSW for those with eating disorders.

She was placed on a long waiting list for public outpatient treatment in Newcastle.

 Tara’s parents funded the cost of a private bed but four weeks and $20,000 later Tara had to leave because they could no longer afford it.

Two years since her stay, the Tighes Hill resident is on the mend and has joined a campaign called Fed Up NSW Health.

They will stage a vigil outside NSW Parliament tonight   to call for more public beds for eating disorder patients.

Ms Peak said they would like two beds in every major hospital, which would mean four in the Hunter.

Hunter New England Health records show there were 160 inpatient treatment episodes in the 2009-2010 financial year for eating disorders.

It is estimated that up to 11,000 Hunter residents suffer from anorexia nervosa.

Ms Peak said hospital admission was critical to patients because it addressed their pressing medical needs and provided intensive psychological care.

‘‘It was the kick-start I needed,’’ she said.

The physiotherapy student said she wanted people to realise anorexia was a mental health issue, not a lifestyle choice.

‘‘It’s not about food, or what you’re eating, it’s about control,’’ she said.

‘‘There’s help out there even though you really do have to fight for it.’’

Community treatment 

HUNTER New England Health acting mental health director David McLeod said the majority of people with eating disorders did not require hospitalisation and were treated through community mental health services, general practitioners, dieticians and private psychologists.

‘‘Hunter New England Health treats the majority of patients who do require in-patient care for eating disorders within medical wards,’’ he said.

‘‘There is also a dedicated service based at James Fletcher Hospital in Newcastle.’’

NSW Health also funds 24 day-patient places, used by older adolescents and adults.

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