Thousands of adults wait an average of five months to receive treatment for eating disorders, with one trust running an 18-month backlog.
The data comes from new research from the University of Liverpool, shared exclusively with Sky News.
It found that, across 19 NHS trusts providing community-based treatment for eating disorders, 68% have waiting times of more than three months.
There is an average wait of five months between referral and treatment.
But the longest waiting time was 18 months at Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust.
Jayya Malhorta has been in and out of treatment for an eating disorder for most of her life.
She developed anorexia nervosa at age nine, which meant she spent many years in hospital.
He told Sky News that this has had a “negative impact” on every aspect of his life – from education, to relationships with friends and family.
She added, “When I enter treatment for anorexia there hasn’t been a moment where I haven’t had a significant delay.”
Ms Malhorta is currently awaiting community-based treatment, a wait which has so far reached 12 months.
Meanwhile, she’s relied on friends and family for support, but worries her condition could worsen when she gets the care she needs.
When patients receive timely help they ‘get better faster’
Dr Ashish Kumar, vice chair of the eating disorders faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told Sky News there is a ‘real sense of urgency’ to step up investment in adult eating disorder services.
When patients get help sooner, they “get better faster,” she said, adding that, without better care, “an entire generation of young adults and adults” could be negatively impacted.
Dr. Kumar added, “If you don’t treat these patients early, their chances of getting better go down significantly, their chronicity goes up.
“Their chance of death also changes massively because the eating disorder is a multisystem disorder, meaning it affects a patient’s heart, brain, kidneys, lungs and bones, their fertility.”
Eating disorders cost the economy more than £9 billion each year
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, more funding is desperately needed for eating disorder services in the NHS.
Doctoral researcher Daniel Bowman of the University of Liverpool said: ‘We know eating disorders cost the UK economy over £9 billion every year.
“If this government is serious about cutting costs, it needs to come up with a model of investing to save money that actually invests in community care, which means people get care in a more timely manner and they don’t get sharper and put more pressure on a national health service that is already in trouble”.
A government spokesman said: “Improving eating disorder services is a vital part of our work to strengthen mental health services.
“That’s why we’re investing nearly £1 billion in community mental health care for adults with severe mental illness, including eating disorders, by 2024 and a further £53 million a year in community eating disorder services.” of children and youth to increase community capacity of 70 eating disorder groups.”