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Minister Lynch: ‘Unwilling’ patients no longer to receive electric shock therapy

Patients who refuse to give their consent will no longer be forced to have the controversial treatment under new laws.

Image: ect machine via Shutterstock

Updated 9.24pm

NON-CONSENTING MENTAL health patients will no longer be forced to undergo electric shock therapy (ECT) under proposed legislation.

Minister of State for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People, Kathleen Lynch, confirmed to TheJournal.ie that recommendations in relation to ECT made by the expert group who are reviewing the mental health act, will be implemented. She said the law will be changed so that unwilling patients will no longer be forced to receive ECT.

She said: “I know for a fact that we are taking out ‘unwilling’ from the ECT piece. That to me always did seem outrageous, so that is going to go.”

Non consent to treatment

Under the Mental Health Act 2001, a patient must consent to the treatment, but if they decide against it then their decision can be overridden if two psychiatrists believe it is in the best interests of the patient. This promise by the minister will see the word “unwilling” removed from section 59 of Act.

The Mental Health Act is currently under review by an expert group who were due to give their final report and recommendations to the minister in June.

The most recent figures released by the Mental Health Commission show that in 2011, 25 out of 332 programmes of ECT were given to patients who were either unwilling or unable to give consent to the treatment.

This compares with 35 cases of ECT, out of a total of 347, that was administered to unwilling patients in 2010.

The average number of treatments per programme of ECT was 6.8. The Government’s mental health policy, A Vision for Change, which was published in 2006 does not set out any national clinical guidelines for ECT in Ireland.

The Mental Health Reform has raised its concerns over the current legal and standards framework, and previously stated that given that ECT is an invasive treatment it is imperative that rigorous safeguards are in place to protect the individuals’ right to choice and to give protection from any unnecessary harm.

The Mental Health Commission has also highlighted its concerns about forced ECT treatment to non-consenting patients and registered their concerns in their annual reports.

ECT is administered in 68 approved and registered centres across the country.

There has been numerous cases brought to the High Court in relation to ECT. The removal of the word “unwilling” should give clarity to those who are vocal about their objections to the treatment.

While the removal of the word “unwilling” from the act will be welcomed by those who have campaigned against forced ECT treatment, it does not go so far as to remove the entire section which states:

where the patient is unable or unwilling to give such consent…


Christina Finn/YouTube

Minister Lynch also flagged other legislative changes which could be made, such as the make-up and format of the mental health tribunals and the inclusion of someone’s will and preference in terms of their treatment. While she said it is “in the hands of the expert group” she said she would like to see the role of the advocate expanded, whereby they should be able to accompany patients to their mental health tribunal, if they so wished.

She added that there were a number of issues being looked at and admitted that there was still a “gap in the service” when it came to teenagers being treated in some services when they are 16 years old, with other services refusing to offer treatment. She said:

I always felt that if it is the law of the land that you are a child until you are 18 then that’s the service you fit into, and that’s it.

She added that young people ending up in adult units as a result of “territorial protectionism” is “unacceptable”.


Christina Finn/YouTube

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This article was written with the support of the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund. To find out more about the fund, please visit www.maryrafteryfund.ie or follow @MaryRafteryFund on Twitter.

First published 6.45am

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