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Electroshock treatment still routinely used in secret in psychiatric units
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is still being routinely given to patients in secret in England's psychiatric units, and more than a third of the 'electroshock' procedures are carried out against the will of the patient, a new study has discovered.

ECT is a dangerous therapy that can cause memory loss, and has been discredited in many countries—but is still routinely carried out in England. Doctors are not reporting the episodes, and so nobody can be sure of the extent of the practice.

Researchers from the University of East London sent Freedom of Information requests to England's 56 National Health Service (NHS) trusts to discover that 2,700 patients are given ECTs every year, and that 39 per cent of the procedures are carried out forcibly, and without the patient's consent.

Most of the patients are women who are aged over 60 years, and are being treated for health problems such as depression. Only four of the trusts included information about adverse reactions during the treatment, but none revealed how the patient fared afterwards.

A third of the trusts are going against government guidelines by not seeking a second opinion before using ECT, the researchers found.

"The failure to properly monitor outcomes or the memory loss so often caused by ECT is, to be blunt, medical negligence," said lead researcher Prof John Read. "Forcing people to undergo this dangerous procedure against their will, and without offering them other treatments, indicates a mental health system in urgent need of treatment itself."


(Source: Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 2017; doi: 10.1111/papt.12160)

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