ECT without consent in the Northern Territory, Australia

In January the NT News in Australia ran a story with the title “16 Territorians given shock therapy without their consent”

“FEWER than 10 per cent of ­patients who received electroconvulsive therapy, formerly known as electro shock therapy (ECT), gave informed consent in 2014-15, according to a mental health expert. The Mental Health Review Tribunal approved 16 Territorians to receive the controversial treatment without patient consent in 2014-15.”

If 16 represents 90 per cent of the total number of people who received ECT in the Northern Territory 2014-15, then it means that just two people, out of a total of 18, consented to have the treatment in a year.

The Northern Territory has a population of under 250,000 people, so this does not represent a particulary low use of ECT. It is fairly similar, for example, to its use in Northern Ireland and Scotland. What is unusual is that nearly all ECT patients appear to be treated without consent (whereas in Northern Ireland it is just over half and in Scotland it is about one third). Could this be a statistical blip due to the small numbers involved? It would be interesting to see figures for previous years, but I have been unable to find any. The article does not provide any explanation, other than a rather unhelpful comment from a psychiatrist:

“Treatment is ideally by consent, but unfortunately a lot of … people are very psychotic or aggressive so it goes through the mental health tribunal,” Dr Parker said.

The comment is however interesting in so far as it suggests that aggression may be a reason for treating someone without their consent – something that would not be legal in for example England or Scotland, unless the person was deemed to lack capacity.


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