A leading eating disorder campaigner from Earlsfield is fighting to enforce NHS guidelines after being refused support for not being thin enough.
Hope Virgo, 28, took her ‘Dump the scales’ petition, which has so far attracted more than 63,000 signatures, to Parliament this week to be debated by MPs.
Miss Virgo, who has suffered from anorexia since she was 13, relapsed in 2016 and was turned away from receiving vital support because she wasn’t considered skinny enough to be deemed at risk.
FRUSTRATED: Miss Virgo has battled anorexia since she was a teenager
“I felt completely let down, I was frustrated.
“I had this four week period after I relapsed where I felt suicidal a lot of the time, I was battling with that relentless voice in my head telling me not to have food, not to eat and I didn’t know how to cope with it,” Miss Virgo said.
At the time, Miss Virgo’s Body Mass Index (BMI) was around 19, which is considered in the healthy range as it does not fall under the 18.5 threshold for being deemed underweight.
In the past, Miss Virgo had almost died from anorexia aged 17 when her heart had nearly stopped.
The doctor she went to see said there was nothing they could do to help as Miss Virgo was not underweight, which meant she had to try and function with her mental struggle.
Miss Virgo said she felt not only self-doubt, but also guilt that she had asked for help.
Current National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines stipulate that patients should not be judged for eating disorder treatment solely on their BMI but these rules are not being enforced uniformly across the country.
Since launching the petition, Miss Virgo has been contacted by around a thousand people who have shared their own experiences of being denied essential help from their GP with an eating disorder.
CAMPAIGNING: MPs debated the issue in Parliament on Tuesday
“There’s a huge misunderstanding in the NHS and around society generally around the fact people with eating disorders need to be stick thin and have a really underweight BMI when actually you can be a completely healthy weight but really struggle,” said Miss Virgo.
“I felt like people thought I was attention seeking and making this whole thing up which is probably one of the worst things.
“You feel like you have to prove a point that you have an eating disorder,” she added.
On Tuesday, Wera Hobhouse, MP, hosted a Westminster Hall debate “Stigma and Eating Disorders.”
She said: “So many people, with conditions like anorexia and bulimia, blame themselves. It’s not their fault, and we need to make sure they know it.”
“Clearly we need to do better. It is obvious that services are patchy at best, and that people are having to travel too far for treatment and wait too long to be treated,” she added.
The next stage is to table an early days motion to gather more MP support, which will require 100,000 petition signatures.
Currently there are 1.25 million people with eating disorders across the UK and Miss Virgo believes her campaign could save the NHS money, as well as lives.
Miss Virgo would also like a standard introduced to measure why people are being turned away from receiving help as well as seeing GPs receive more training around eating disorders.
For more information on Hope’s campaign see https://www.change.org/p/eating-disorders-are-not-just-about-weight-dumpthescales
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