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Annual report on ECT statistics released

11 August 2006

Annual report on ECT statistics released

A total of 307 people with a serious mental illness received electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) last year, an annual report on the treatment released today by the Ministry of Health shows.

The figure is equivalent to 7.5 people per 100,000 receiving ECT, which is significantly lower than the level recorded in many countries.

About 80 per cent of ECT was given with informed consent, though the actual number is hard to gauge because of coding inconsistencies. Nearly four out of five patients were aged over 40 and about two out of three were women.

ECT has been proven internationally to be an effective treatment for severe depression, with over 8 out of 10 patients responding well to it. It is used when antidepressant medication, psychotherapy or both have been ineffective, when the side effects from the use of medication make ECT the most appropriate treatment option, or other treatments would be too slow.

It is also considered the safest treatment option in cases where depression is accompanied by a physical illness or pregnancy, which renders the use of the usually preferred antidepressants dangerous to the patient or to a developing foetus.

The annual report covering the period from 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2005 also showed that: - 69 per cent of patients given ECT were female

- 85 per cent of patients were European, 6 per cent were Maori, 7 per cent were Pacific Islanders and 2 per cent were Asians

- 79 per cent of patients given ECT were over 40 years old

- 78 per cent of treatments were given with the patient's consent

A total of 305 people or 7.5 people per 100,000 received the treatment from 1 July 2003 to 30 June 2004.

"ECT has been demonstrated to be a relatively safe and effective treatment, which may actually be lifesaving as serious mental illness is associated with significant mortality," said Dr Jeremy Skipworth, Deputy Director of Mental Health.

Although the treatment can be given under compulsion under Section 60 of the Mental Health Act, this requires a second opinion from a suitably qualified psychiatrist.

"Some patients are seriously unwell and have no capacity to make an informed decision even though ECT is the best treatment option available," Dr Skipworth said. "The Mental Health Act provides for this situation."

"District Health Boards have assured the Ministry of Health that the Mental Health Act was not used to enforce treatment in any case where the patient retained decision making capacity," he added.

Dr Skipworth said the marked regional variations in the number of ECT treatments could reflect differences amongst boards' populations.

For example, DHBs with psychogeriatric services may use more ECT than those without these facilities. ECT is more often the treatment of choice for the elderly as prescribing medications is associated with more side effects in this population.

ENDS

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