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Informed Consent Vital in ECT

Media Release
For Immediate Use

7 April 2008

Informed Consent Vital in ECT

The Mental Health Commission says that informed patient consent should be the norm when electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is being considered as a treatment.

``Fully informed consent whenever possible is expected in all types of patient care and ECT is no different,’’ says Mental Health Commissioner Ray Watson.

``Occasionally a patient will be so unwell that he or she is not able to give their full consent to ECT, but that’s the exception. The overwhelming majority of people are quite capable of deciding whether ECT is the right treatment for them.’’

Ray Watson referred to the Director of Mental Health’s annual report 2006, which says that no patients were forced to have ECT during the 2005-06 period if they were well enough to make decisions for themselves and chose to decline consent. And of the ECT treatments given during that period, 17 percent were given to patients considered too ill to be capable of consenting, down from 22 percent for the previous year.

Between 1 July 2005 and 30 June 2006, the Director of Mental Health’s annual report shows that 224 people were treated with ECT: 156 (70%) were women and 68 (30%) were men. The report attributes most of that difference to the fact that more women than men present with depressive disorders, which is in line with overseas patterns.

Ray Watson says ECT is considered by clinicians an effective treatment for some types of mental illness but it’s not usually the first thing clinicians turn to.

``It’s certainly not the case that a doctor will just over-ride a patient’s wishes and decide they should have ECT,’’ he says. ``This can only be done in exceptional circumstances under the Mental Health Act and the facts show that it’s the exception rather than the norm.’’


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