Early intervention for eating disorders

More than 600,000 people in the UK have one or more eating disorders, ranging from anorexia and bulimia to binge eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorders.

Peak onset for eating disorders is during adolescence and early adulthood, a sensitive time when the brain is still developing. Evidence from research studies suggests that treatment outcomes are best if the condition is identified and treated at the earliest opportunity, within the first three years of illness.

Imperial College Health Partners is aiming to improve support for young people in North West London who are in the early stages of an eating disorder, through the First episode Rapid Early intervention for Eating Disorders (FREED) model.


How the model works

The FREED model was first developed by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. It is an evidence-based, specialist care package for 16 to 25-year-olds with a first episode eating disorder of less than three years’ duration.

Broadly based on the early intervention model for psychosis, FREED overcomes barriers to early treatment and recovery and provides highly coordinated early care, with a central focus on reducing the duration of an untreated eating disorder. It consists of a service model and a care package.

The FREED model sits within existing eating disorder services, helping to speed up the route that patients take into the service, reducing the time between a patient presenting with an eating disorder and them starting treatment.

The care package emphasises early, pro-active engagement; early symptom change; family involvement; attention to the effects of eating disorders on the brain; attention to social media use; and attention to transitions (out of school, to university, into work) and ‘emerging adulthood’, all utilising existing resources within the eating disorder service.


Supporting young people with eating disorders

By working with partners to implement the FREED model in North West London our aims are:

  • Earlier intervention and treatment of eating disorders in young people
  • Reduction in the length of time young people have untreated eating disorders
  • Reduction in waiting times, day/in-patient admissions and bed days
  • Cost savings through reduced use of healthcare services, in particular reduced need for day/in-patient admissions

Our partners

ICHP is working with partners in North West London to deliver FREED, as part of our role as an Academic Health Science Network (AHSN).

Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) is an early-adopter of FREED and ICHP is working with the trust to review their existing service and use their existing data to gain insights and inform their delivery. We will also be exploring how we can provide support for the service.

We are also working with West London NHS Trust to integrate the model into their existing eating disorder services.


If you would like to find out more about this work please email us.