Scots get electric brain shocks against their will

SOARING numbers of Scottish patients are receiving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – ­despite resisting or refusing the controversial treatment.

SOARING numbers of Scottish patients are receiving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – ­despite resisting or refusing the controversial treatment.

Newly released health figures show that in 2013, a third of patients treated with ECT had not given permission for the therapy to be carried out – a rise from 25 per cent in 2010 and 10 per cent in 2006.

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According to the report, by the NHS Information Services Division, 372 patients received ECT in Scotland last year, with only 67 per cent giving their ­“informed consent”.

Patients that refuse the treatment can be forcibly held down and anaesthetised for the procedure.

Politicians and health campaigners have called the statistics “disturbing,” but health authorities said treatment without consent is only given if it is in the best interests of the patient.

The treatment involves a small electric current being run through the brain with the aim of producing a seizure. It can be used by doctors to help treat severe depression, schizophrenia, bipolar and those at serious risk of suicide. It has been used by psychiatric doctors since the 1930s.

It is a risky treatment and more than half of patients suffer side-effects, most commonly headaches, nausea and muscle pain.

More severe side-effects include seizures, heart problems, memory loss and personality change.


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Last year, Aberdeen University researchers discovered ECT therapy works for severely depressed or mentally ill people by turning down an overactive connection between areas of the brain that control mood as well as thinking and concentration.

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They argued it was an effective tool in some patients because it stopped the impact that depression has on that person’s ability to enjoy life.

Families are unable to refuse or agree to the treatment on a patient’s behalf, as power of attorney is exempt under current mental health legislation.

The report explained: “If the patient is not capable of providing informed consent, treatment must be authorised by an independent psychiatric opinion.”

Alison McInnes, MSP and Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman, said: “I find these figures disturbing. It is a hugely controversial treatment and I don’t think people should be given it without their full consent.

“The fact families are not able to refuse the treatment on the patient’s behalf is also something that needs to be looked at.

“There are human rights issues that should be looked into, but unfortunately this is a very neglected issue and often these patients don’t have anyone speaking up for them.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “Every situation will be different and there’s no doubt some of these patients will present ­extreme challenges to health professionals.

“But I think the public will look at these statistics and think we should be reducing the number of those who receive this care without granting the go-ahead.”


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