25 August 2022

Will the ACT have a residential eating disorder centre by the end of next year?

| Lottie Twyford
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Emma Davidson

Minister for Disability Emma Davidson was pressured to clarify the timeline around the eating disorder residential facility. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A much-anticipated and needed residential eating disorder facility is slated to be built in the Territory by the end of next year.

The facility is expected to open on an earmarked site in Coombs, although the land has yet to be procured and a builder has not been engaged.

Eating disorder advocates have previously expressed concern about the speed at which services are delivered in the Territory.

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Those living with an eating disorder have spoken out about a lack of inpatient or acute hospital beds for adults, that community-based eating disorders services are at capacity and that psychologists, dieticians and GPs who specialise in these areas have long waiting lists.

It’s hoped that, when open, the new centre can alleviate some of the pressure on existing services and stop patients travelling interstate for care.

Concept designs for the centre will be released this week.

Building in rural setting in Queensland

Wandi Nerida in Queensland, accredited as the first residential facility for eating disorders in Australia, is operated by the Butterfly Foundation. Photo: ACT Government.

A $13.5 million commitment was secured from the Federal Government to build the centre in its 2019 Budget. At the time, then-ACT Senator Zed Seselja said it could be open in as little as one to two years, with the funding scheduled to be delivered in 2021-22.

According to a later ACT Government timeline, completion was expected in mid-2023, with construction beginning in 2021-22.

That deadline has now been pushed back to the end of next year, although there are still several significant hurdles to overcome.

A Legislative Assembly committee recommended in 2020 that the ACT Government expedite the construction of the clinic.

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In budget estimates on Wednesday (24 August), Opposition spokesperson for mental health Ed Cocks sought to clarify why $8.5 million in budget funding had been rolled over from the financial years 2021-22 and 2022-23 into 2023-24 and whether there had been delays to the project.

Officials said this reflected when payments would be made, while they also alluded to delays due to the pandemic.

Ms Davidson denied there were delays and that the ACT had met its obligations to the Commonwealth, which had been set out in an agreement with them.

ACT Health Director-General Rebecca Cross took on notice a question about whether the government had provided different timeframes to the Commonwealth compared to what had been publicly announced.

“I suspect we would have had to wait until the funding from the Commonwealth to turn up,” she said.

Officials said there was some flexibility built into the original timeframe.

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There are currently no inpatient facilities outside of a hospital setting for people with eating disorders in the ACT.

In January, the ACT Government launched a new central intake service called the Eating Disorders Clinical Hub to better connect Canberrans battling eating disorders to the right support services.

Officials said the service had led to drastically reduced waiting times for support.

If you are concerned about an eating disorder or body image issues and need support for yourself or someone you care about, the Butterfly Foundation’s support line is available on 1800 334 673 (1800 ED HOPE).

If you or anyone you know needs mental health support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24-hour crisis support. In an emergency, call triple zero (000).

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