Government urged to conduct an urgent review over controversial treatment for depression

Campaigners are calling on the Government to launch an urgent independent review into a controversial treatment for depression amid concerns the NHS has ignored evidence showing patients have been left with life-changing brain damage.

The Government has been urged to conduct an independent review of electroconvulsive treatment amid concerns over its long-term health implications. (Photo: Fabio Derby - stock.adobe.com).

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which involves passing electricity through the brain, is routinely used by the NHS to treat patients suffering from severe depression.

However, following an audit led by clinical psychologist Professor John Read, fears have been raised that a significant number of hospital trusts are failing to monitor the long-term impact of the treatment.

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Professor Read, who is based at the University of East London, said: “We carried out the same audit four years ago and sadly nothing has changed.

There is not one single study which demonstrates any long-term benefit of ECT; conversely there are hundreds of people who have been left completely incapacitated by this treatment.

“In some cases they have suffered such significant memory loss that they are unable to work. Despite this, NHS trusts continue to use ECT and many are failing to monitor what happens once treatment has ended.

"The lack of rigorous scrutiny is frightening and the Government must act now to prevent even more vulnerable people being subject to this often brutal treatment.”

Of the country’s 56 hospital trusts, 37 responded to the audit, including the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

The information provided, which related to treatment carried out in 2019, showed that around 2,500 patients a year undergo ECT and in a third of cases it is given without consent.

Both Yorkshire trusts had a slightly higher number of ECT cases per head of population than the national average, but neither were able to outline the measures used to track possible long-term memory damage.

Freeths law firm is now seeking compensation on behalf of ECT patients, including a number in Yorkshire who wish to remain anonymous.

Jane Williams, clinical negligence partner at Freeths, said: “Before ECT each patient should be made fully aware of the potential side effects and given options of alternative treatments. Unfortunately in many cases there appears to be a failure to obtain informed consent.”

In the wake of the audit, both Yorkshire trusts have defended the use of ECT.

Dr Subha Thiyagesh, medical director at South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “As a trust that puts people first and in the centre, we ensure that our patients receive appropriate care and are treated in line with NICE guidance.”

Dr Chris Hosker, medical director at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, provided a similar response.

He said: “We treat patients in line with national NICE guidance and our clinicians work with patients to ensure they get the most appropriate care and treatment for their needs.”