Guidelines on ECT use welcomed

FRIDAY 02/05/2003
U TV, Ireland

Mental health experts welcomed new medical guidelines today for the use of electric shock therapy.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) advised doctors that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) should only be used in cases where all other treatments have failed.

The treatment, which involves passing an electric current through the brain, has been used for decades on patients with severe depression or mania.

But some have been terrified by the treatment, describing it as demeaning and abusive, especially when administered without consent.

The new guidelines recommend:

:: ECT is used only to achieve rapid and short-term improvement of severe symptoms after other treatment has failed or when the condition is considered to be potentially life-threatening.

:: The therapy is used for patients with severe depressive illness catatonia - a type of schizophrenia - or a prolonged or severe manic episode.

:: The decision to use ECT should be made jointly by the individual and the clinicians responsible for treatment.

:: Consent should be obtained where the patient is able to give such permission.

Andrew Dillon, chief executive of Nice, said: ``The guidance will help patients and those who treat them better understand the benefits and risks of ECT, and in doing so, reduce the uncertainty surrounding the use of what has been a controversial technique.``

The release of the new guidance coincided with the launch of an accreditation programme for health professionals who use ECT, ensuring all are properly trained.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, welcomed the guidelines.

She said: ``We applaud these guidelines as we know that ECT is, for some people, beneficial and saves lives.

``We hope that these recommendations will remove the uncertainties and damaging mythology surrounding what can be a valuable treatment, provided that it is administered according to strict procedures.``

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