The family of a young North Derbyshire woman struggling with an eating disorder since hearing a teacher call a fellow pupil fat aged eight are appealing for help to fund her treatment.
Anorexic Emma Duffy relies on liquid food to survive and has tried to kill herself nine times, even resorting to swallowing razor blades.
The former nursing student has been repeatedly sectioned under the Mental Health Act and has also cut her legs and poured boiling water over her arms.
But now the 24-year-old’s family have claimed Emma has been refused an NHS bed at one of the few specialist units in the UK which treats eating and personality disorders together.
Emma started experiencing problems aged eight, when she overheard a dance teacher saying a pal would never make it as a dancer because she was ‘too overweight’.
Mum Beverley, who knew nothing of her daughter’s struggle until she was 18, said: “She told me her and a friend heard the comment and instantly started watching what they ate.
“But watching what she ate, for Emma, soon turned into a problem, and an illness, deep inside her which completely ruled her life.
“We have hope, and believe that she will get better. It’s a mental illness. It’s not just about eating.”
Despite suffering from bulimia for 10 years following the throwaway remark, her weight was not low enough to cause doctors concern.
Emma spent her gap year in an orphanage in Ghana, West Africa, but on her return Beverley discovered she had been passing food to youngsters at the institution.
Beverley said: “When she came home, we were waiting for her at the airport, but she was so skinny I walked straight past her.”
Troubled Emma, from Walton, Chesterfield, dropped out of her course at Teesside University due to poor attendance, leading to a suicide attempt last October which saw her sectioned to a hospital in Middlesbrough, where she has been ever since.
She was later referred by a consultant to The Retreat, in York.
Beverley said: “I just can’t understand how one part of the NHS can say something will really help, then another arm refuses, it’s not right.
“In my opinion, the board looked at Emma’s notes and thought she wasn’t as thin as some anorexic people.”
Beverley and Emma’s younger sister Amy have now set up Saving Emma, a campaign aiming to raise the money needed to treat her.
Beverley said: “We are hoping to raise enough for three years’ treatment.”
A spokesman for The Retreat said it ‘played no part’ in deciding whether to give her a bed.
“We have played no part in the decision regarding funding her care or carried out an assessment regarding her suitability for our services.
“In cases such as these, the usual process is that an individual is assessed by an NHS funding panel and if they meet the required criteria they are referred to external providers such as The Retreat to receive the specialist support they need.
“The Retreat is an independent charity providing NHS care and plays no part in this decision-making process.
“Treatment in our specialist eating disorder unit is intensive and complex and can deliver lifesaving outcomes. All of the people currently using this service are funded by the NHS at an annual cost of approximately £156,000 per annum.
“Individuals usually stay with us for a maximum of 12 months.”
He added: “We have been in touch with the family to share this information with them and also advised them to seek support from their local Healthwatch in finding a way forward.”
A spokesman for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said: “The responsibility for funding care placements rests with the commissioners of NHS services.”
n Visit www.facebook.com/savingemmaduffy or www.gofundme.com/6osnlw to donate.