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Controversial mental health treatment used in Bucks

Electroconvulsive therapy was used at least four times in the past five years.

Published by Dan Gooding at 7:55am 5th July 2020. 4-minute read.

Controversial mental health treatment used in Bucks

Buckinghamshire Healthcare Trust is among more than 100 NHS trusts across England that have used electroconvulsive therapy on patients in the last five years, new figures reveal.

ECT – formerly known as electric shock therapy – sends an electric current through someone’s brain while they are under general anaesthetic, and is used to treat some mental health problems including severe depression.

But a recent study published in the journal Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry has called for its use to be suspended immediately due to the risk of side effects such as brain damage, arguing that previous research into the procedure has been “poor”.

Woman - Sad - Mental Health

NHS Digital statistics show a patient was given ECT on at least four occasions at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust between 2014-15 and 2018-19.

Of those, at least one was in 2018-19.

The data counts each continuous period of care a patient admitted to hospital received from a consultant, during which they were given ECT as a main or secondary medical procedure.

  • Someone could undergo several courses of ECT during a given period of care.
  • Annual figures are suppressed if they are between one and seven, meaning the total could be higher.
  • Across England, trusts recorded almost 3,500 periods of care during which a patient received ECT over the five years.
  • The number dropped gradually over that time, from 796 in 2014-15 to 580 in 2018-19.

But there was wide variation between trusts – the figure stood at 125 at Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Swindon in 2018-19, while many places recorded no use of the procedure.

Dr John Read, professor of clinical psychology at the University of East London and co-author of a recent review of ECT, said the quality of previous studies into the treatment was “so poor that no conclusions about whether ECT works or not can be made”.

The study says that all treatment should be halted due to the “high risk of permanent memory loss and the small mortality risk” involved.

Dr Read said:

“We are asking that ECT be suspended throughout the NHS, pending research to determine whether it does actually work.”

He added that the disparity between trusts showed the likelihood of someone getting the treatment “is a geographic lottery based on the personal opinions of individual psychiatrists”.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which issues official guidance on NHS treatments, recommends ECT for some severe cases of depression, catatonia and mania when other treatments have failed.

Asked about Dr Read’s research, a NICE spokeswoman said the body was “taking the findings into consideration”, but could not comment further while the review was ongoing.

Dr Rupert McShane chairs a committee on ECT at the Royal College of Psychiatrists and is the lead consultant psychiatrist at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust which covers Buckinghamshire.

While supporting further research into its use he states ECT can be "a life-saving treatment" for many people with severe and intractable depression.

He said:

"About 70% of those who receive ECT are much better afterwards.

"As with all treatments for serious medical conditions - from cancer to heart disease - there can be side-effects of differing severity.  About 2% of people receiving ECT complain of severe memory loss."

Stephen Buckley, from the mental health charity Mind, said it is ”imperative” that anyone being offered the treatment has the right information to weigh up its risks and benefits, as side effects can include memory loss, loss of emotional responses and difficulty concentrating.

He added:

“We don’t know exactly how ECT works, or how effective it is.

“We know that some people have found ECT to be very effective in treating their mental health problem.”nhs


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