A FORMER anorexia sufferer says the closure of an award-winning eating disorder unit in the region could cost lives.
Rachel Cowey, from Harton, South Shields, said the decision to close the Richardson eating disorder service, at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, in the autumn, could have fatal consequences.
The Sunderland University graduate received outpatient treatment for anorexia from the age of 18 to 22, when she was discharged.
The 27-year-old, who studied magazine journalism at the university, said the closure would have a “massive impact” on the North East.
She has campaigned against the decision with the North East Eating Disorder Action Group (NEEDAG) since 2011.
She said: “People are already refusing treatment because they are being asked to go to other places for it. They are already putting themselves at risk.
“Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of mental health disorders, so it could have terrible consequences.”
Patients at the unit, which is run by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, have been sent to Sheffield, Leeds, Darlington, Glasgow and even Norwich, for treatment.
The trust is working with NHS England to open a new eating disorder intensive day service in the city, but there will be no inpatient beds.
The nearest adult inpatient facility is based 40 miles away in Darlington.
NEEDAG urged health chiefs to provide inpatient care in Tyneside, as there are no beds in use at the Richardson unit, despite there being 10 available.
The campaigners have reacted angrily to the impending closure of the unit.
Staff working at the Richardson Unit are undergoing a consultation process over the changes, although Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation trust hopes to transfer all employees to the new service.