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Friday, 1 October, 1999, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Thousands receive electric shock treatment
Brain scan
ECT gives a big jolt of electricity to the brain
The first official figures for eight years on the use of controversial electric shock treatment show that hundreds of people were treated against their will.

The figures show 2,800 patients received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) over a three month period from January to March 1999.

In total, there were approximately 16,500 administrations of ECT during the period.

There were 900 male patients receiving treatment, compared with 1,900 female patients.

Forty-four per cnt of female patients and 36% of male patients receiving ECT were aged 65 and over.

A quarter of ECT patients were formally detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Of the 700 ECT patients formally detained whilst receiving ECT treatment, 59% did not consent to treatment.

First step to reform

Campaigners hope the move could mark the first step to reform.

The last Department of Health figures were issued in 1991.

It was hoped use of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) would continue to be monitored through more general health statistics.

But a spokeswoman said the data was too vague so a snapshot survey, looking at the gender, age and possibly ethnicity of ECT patients, was commissioned.

It is unclear whether this will become a regular survey.

The government figures come after much lobbying by campaigners. Last year a 10-minute rule bill by MP John Gunnell which called for restrictions on ECT use was talked out.

No consent

Mental health campaigners hope it will be the first step towards an end to the use of ECT without consent and a ban on its use for people under 16.

Charity Mind estimates about 20,000 people a year receive ECT in England and Wales.

Around 2,000 are given the treatment without their consent after they have been forcibly committed to hospital.

Mind says some are given it even though they have had bad experiences in the past and say they do not want it.

Opinions on the effectiveness of ECT vary among both experts and patients. Some believe it is barbaric and destroys the brain while others say it can help up to 80% of patients who are on the point of crisis.

The process, which has been used for more than 60 years, involves giving an electric shock to the brain. Techniques have been refined in recent years to make the practice safer.

Mind says no-one really knows how it works and what its long-term effects are.

A spokeswoman said: "It is so risky and severe. The side effects can be very severe, including short- or long-term memory loss, coma and possibly death."

Older women

Mind believes older women are more likely to be given the treatment repeatedly than others.

"Part of the reason may be that they are slightly more likely to suffer from severe depression than men, but that cannot be the whole explanation," said the spokeswoman.

Mind hopes the Department of Health figures will open the way for an independent audit of ECT, as occurs in Scotland.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has expressed concern about the way the treatment is administered.

In a recent report, it said ECT was often administered by poorly trained junior doctors, who may be left unsupervised with out-of-date equipment.

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13 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Electro-convulsive Therapy
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