Dr Simon Clarke

World leaders in anorexia treatment

Westmead Hospital is the world leader in managing the deadly anorexia nervosa in young people. Westmead Hospital cares for more anorexia inpatients than any other hospital in Australia. They are almost all girls, some as young as 12.  

"Anorexia is a disease that caused a high incidence of death among young people in the 70s, because it was so badly understood," says Dr Simon Clarke, a specialist in the Hospital's Adolescent Unit.

Dr Clarke pioneered the use of what is called 'nasogastic feeding', the use of a feeding tube, in his patients when their medical health was compromised. Despite the controversy in this method, the results have been outstanding.

"We realised that we needed to be really proactive in getting these young girls to gain weight quickly and, if necessary, that meant using a feeding tube," he explains. "Ours was the first unit to demonstrate how incredibly effective this method was. We need to restore full weight before we can discharge a young person back into the community."

The Westmead team focus intensively on family therapy when treating the young girls, rather than focusing only on the patient. They are taught the importance of nutrition, and of monitoring the cognitive and emotional changes in family members with anorexia.

Westmead Hospital is also in a position to be able to admit the patients for longer periods of time, and undertake quite difficult treatment and research. This is quite literally having the effect of reducing repeat episodes among the patients, thereby saving their lives.

"Our research and management of this disease has improved so much that the mortality rate is now quite low, and we have become world leaders in the field," Dr Clarke says. "The results are very exciting."

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