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VUL­NER­A­BLE teens with men­tal health is­sues are rou­tinely given con­tro­ver­sial elec­tric shock ther­apy by NHS doc­tors.

A Sun­day Mir­ror probe to­day re­veals pa­tients as young as 16 have been given ECT de­spite fears over its long-term ef­fects.

Stud­ies have shown ECT can cause mem­ory loss, dis­ori­en­ta­tion and even brain dam­age.

Fig­ures ob­tained un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act show that from 2016 to 2018, 5,165 pa­tients were given shocks to the brain as high as 460 volts.

The pa­tients were aged 16 to 98. The to­tal num­ber of teens treated is not iden­ti­fied but a sep­a­rate re­port seen by the

Mir­ror shows one in six NHS Trusts ad­min­is­tered ECT to un­der-18s.

Bar­bara Kee­ley, Shadow Min­is­ter for Men­tal Health and So­cial Care, said: “The use of elec­tro­con­vul­sive ther­apy on chil­dren and young peo­ple with men­tal health con­di­tions by NHS trusts is deeply con­cern­ing and war­rants im­me­di­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Gov­ern­ment and NHS Eng­land. Even in adults this treat­ment ought to be a last re­sort.”

Data shows the ther­apy can bring on Alzheimer’s in older pa­tients. In more than one-third of cases it is given with­out pa­tient con­sent, while 30 per cent of trusts ad­min­is­ter ECT with­out seek­ing a sec­ond opin­ion.


Many pa­tients were not of­fered all al­ter­na­tives be­fore doc­tors turned to the ex­treme mea­sure, even though guide­lines set by NICE (Na­tional In­sti­tute for Health and Care Ex­cel­lence) rec­om­mend it as a “very last re­sort”.

None of the 37 NHS Trusts who co-op­er­ated with our in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­ported giv­ing af­ter­care to pa­tients to help with side-ef­fects.

And ex­perts and politi­cians last night called for an im­me­di­ate Gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion, claim­ing it is be­ing used be­fore al­ter­na­tive ap­proaches have been ex­hausted.

Lead­ing ex­pert Pro­fes­sor John Read said: “There can be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for giv­ing ECT to teenagers. Their brains are still de­vel­op­ing – and we know what it does to adults. In older adults it speeds up de­men­tia.”

Re­fer­ring to ex­treme meth­ods from yes­ter­year, he added: “We think in about 10 years we will be able to look back on this the way we now look back on lobotomies, sur­prise baths, ro­tat­ing chairs and stand­ing peo­ple next to can­non fire and we will ei­ther laugh or cry. Prob­a­bly cry.”

ECT in­volves small elec­tric cur­rents pass­ing through the brain, in­ten­tion­ally trig­ger­ing a brief seizure.

Al­though the mod­ern process is done un­der anaes­thetic, its phys­i­cal

They seem so pleased with who they cure, yet to­tally and ut­terly dis­miss peo­ple like me DR SUE CUNLIFFE ELEC­TRO THER­APY PA­TIENT AND EX-DOC­TOR

and men­tal side-ef­fects are well doc­u­mented. Our fig­ures show sig­nif­i­cant num­bers treated in the past two years re­ported ad­verse ef­fects.

Of the 5,165 given ECT, 70 re­ported hav­ing mem­ory is­sues post-ther­apy. But this fig­ure is likely to be much higher as ex­perts fear many cases go un­re­ported.

Sus­sex NHS Trust con­firmed 256 pa­tients had ECT. In random sam­pling, of 25 pa­tients quizzed 14 had mem­ory loss, with two suf­fer­ing “sig­nif­i­cant mem­ory im­pair­ment”.

Crit­ics claim a spike in pa­tients is be­cause ECT is a cheap ther­apy.

The Royal Col­lege of Psy­chi­a­trists said 2017-18 in­come was £105mil­lion down in five years, in real terms.

A probe by the British Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion last year showed pa­tients with se­ri­ous men­tal health is­sues, lead­ing to self-harm or at­tempted sui­cide, waited up to two years for spe­cial­ist sup­port.

Some 3,700 waited more than six months for coun­selling and 1,500 waited longer than a year. Sue Cunliffe, a for­mer doc­tor, had 21 rounds of ECT be­tween 2004-2005 at NHS Worces­ter­shire.

She be­lieves talk­ing ther­apy would have cured her, but she never had it.

Sue said: “I had a re­ac­tive de­pres­sion. I was classed as be­ing drug re­sis­tant. The only treat­ment they said I could have was elec­tro­con­vul­sive ther­apy.


“From the mo­ment I had ECT I started com­plain­ing about not be­ing able to re­mem­ber things, peo­ple’s faces.

“They seem so pleased with who they’ve cured and yet to­tally and ut­terly dis­miss peo­ple like me.

“It’s al­most de­hu­man­is­ing and I feel like I am al­most like a sac­ri­fi­cial lamb.

“That it doesn’t mat­ter what they do to some peo­ple as long as they cure oth­ers.”

Some doc­tors ar­gue that ECT is wrongly stig­ma­tised – and say it could even be used more. Tim Oak­ley, a con­sul­tant psy­chi­a­trist with the Northum­ber­land, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, said: “There are some pa­tients who would re­spond very well to ECT who per­haps don’t get it as quickly as they should – or they don’t get it at all – for var­i­ous rea­sons.

“In terms of get­ting peo­ple bet­ter, par­tic­u­larly for de­pres­sion where ev­ery­thing else fails, it is still the best treat­ment.”

A doc­tor who has un­der­gone ECT also sup­ported it. Dr Frances Cole­man Wil­liams had the ther­apy in 2008 at Royal South Hants Hos­pi­tal.

She said: “ECT was part of my jour­ney. I had lots of ther­apy and lots of med­i­ca­tions and lots of peo­ple who helped me – and I needed ECT dur­ing all of that.

“It was a vi­tal part of my jour­ney to get me out of that par­tic­u­larly dark patch.

“When the psy­chi­a­trist sug­gested it, he did talk about side-ef­fects – pos­si­ble headaches, pos­si­ble mem­ory loss, pos­si­ble dif­fi­cul­ties with think­ing.

“I do feel that I was fully con­sented. When the sit­u­a­tion is com­pletely hope­less and this is the only hope there is, it felt like I may as well give it a go. We didn’t have any time to wait, be­cause I was go­ing to kill my­self oth­er­wise.”

NHS Eng­land and the Royal Col­lege of Psy­chi­a­try were un­will­ing to give a state­ment about the role of ECT in mem­ory loss.

ECT was a vi­tal part of my jour­ney, it helped me out of that par­tic­u­larly dark patch


EX­TREME ECT sends elec­tric cur­rents through the brain

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