The deaths of five women with eating disorder who were under the supervision of a trust that provides physical, mental health and specialist care, are being linked by a coroner amid growing concern over the treatment of anorexia patients within the NHS and allegations their deaths were "completely avoidable".
The five women were under the care of Cambridge and Peterborough Foundation Trust (CPFT), which is facing further scrutiny after a coroner decided to investigate the death of 19-year-old Averil Hart, who died on December 2012, alongside Amanda Bowles, Madeline Wallace, Emma Brown and Maria Jakes.
The deaths led assistant coroner for Cambridgeshire Sean Horstead to hear the inquests and note the "potential" for themes common to one or more of the cases were "obvious".
A Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) report in April 2019 suggested the CPFT eating disorder service had experienced "significant difficulties" in recruiting staff, meaning the threshold for referrals was raised.
The CPFT raising the threshold for referrals meant only patients with a body mass index (BMI) below 15 qualified for treatment, with the average waiting time from triage to one-to-one treatment between ten and 12 months, although urgent cases were seen quicker.
Over one million people in the UK are directly affected by Anorexia or Bulimia, the deadliest of all psychiatric illnesses, with up to one in five diagnosed with the disorder dying prematurely.
According to doctors, most of the cases of eating disorder develop between the ages of 14 and 25, and recently patients as young as five-year-old have been treated for Anorexia.
The disorder has become a crisis in the UK as eating disorders overtake cyberbullying as the top source of online concern among children between ten and 16 years of age, The Telegraph UK cited a study as suggesting.
Averil's father Nic Hart, who has campaigned tirelessly for justice, said patients were dying as a direct result of NHS failure. "Services are worse than when Averil died, not better," he added.
Hart's death had prompted a Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) report in December 2017 to describe the tragedy as "avoidable", which could have been prevented.
The PHSO report titled 'Ignoring the alarms: How NHS eating disorder services are failing patients' concluded that every single NHS organization involved in Hart's care had failed her in some way and made anorexia treatment-related recommendations, which largely remain unimplemented.
A public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) report warned there was a "serious lack of training" for doctors about eating disorders as patients in most cases were discharged when they reached a certain weight, with no guarantee their mental health had recovered.
PACAC chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin warned the government needed to adopt a "sense of urgency" and the NHS must learn from its mistakes.
The country's government last month in a response committed to allocate over the next five years more funds for mental health services than the overall NHS budget, The Telegraph UK reported.