by JAMES TWOMEY
A protest against a medical procedure critics say is from a “bygone era” took place recently as a health group condemned the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) on its patients.
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) protesters pitched up outside the Maudsley hospital in Camberwell to protest about “brutal” treatment given to people with mental health illnesses, as portrayed in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Electroconvulsive therapy sends up to 450 volts of electricity through the brain in order to make the patient have a seizure that involves a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions which can lead to brain damage and memory loss.
NHS guidelines say: “During ECT, a carefully calculated electric current is passed to the brain through electrodes placed on the head.
“The current stimulates the brain and triggers a seizure, which helps relieve the symptoms of depression.”
Brian Daniels, a key organiser at CCHR, has been investigating abuse cases in psychiatry for 20 years, and says the continued use of the treatment is “startling”.
Mr Daniels said: “The reason for the protest is to help people who have been affected by the treatment to come forward and talk to us about it and to raise awareness.
“Most people, when they talk to us, say: ‘Really? Is it still going on?’”
“The justification for continuing use of this treatment is that it helps people with difficulties and troubles, but actually it’s like being hit with a cricket bat.
“Memory loss, brain damage and physical damage are just some of the problems that can occur as a result of the procedure, but many psychiatrists still support it.
“In the past people have broken their teeth and bones, and what psychiatrists say is that it is more humane today with relaxants and anaesthetic, but the damage is still the same and they’ve started using higher voltages,” added Mr Daniels.
“The really scary thing is some patients are not giving consent to this treatment. If they are detained under the Mental Health Act any resistance to the treatment can be overruled.”
The most recent report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists showed that in 2016-17 more than 40 per cent of ECT procedures in the UK were done without consent under the Mental Health Act.
Mr Daniels added: “The effects are incredibly damaging, some patients can’t remember their family members any more and often create an insular living experience for themselves.”
The only other hospital in South London where electroshock therapy is performed is the Woodlands Unit at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup.
A spokeswoman for the Maudsley Hospital said: “Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used as a treatment in the UK for some people with severe mental illnesses, in keeping with NICE guidelines.
“The Trust currently meets all the best practice standards for the running of ECT services.”
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