On 11 March 2016 the Daily Mirror reported on an inquest into the death of a 71 year old woman who died following electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), given at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead.
Elsie Tindle was deemed to lack capacity to consent to treatment and had been given 3 treatments whilst awaiting a visit from a CCQ commission appointed psychiatrist (second opinion appointed doctor or SOAD). After the third treatment, having returned to Sunderland Royal Hospital, she went into status epilepticus and died.
According to the article, Sunderland coroner Derek Winter will submit a regulation 28 report to secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt:
“She had three treatments without an SOAD in place after an administrative error. Mr Winter will send a Regulation 28 report – which coroners have the power to issue in an effort to prevent future deaths – which he intends to send to the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt. He said: “My concern is in the request and allocation of second opinion doctors in a timely way.” This court heard that 82 per cent of SOADs are appointed within five working days of a request, but that begs the question about the services provided to the others.””
Treating psychiatrist Dr Eugene van Rheede van Oudtshoorn gave evidence, which appears to have included the claim that ECT involves a shock lasting a few milliseconds:
“The jury heard how one electrical impulse, which lasts a few milliseconds, is administered by two probes at each session, and aims to initiate a 30-second seizure.”
In fact the electric shock usually lasts more than a second, depending on the setting on the machine. For example, on the latest Thymatron machine the shock can last from 0.14 to 8 seconds (that is, from 140 to 8000 milliseconds). In practice a duration of two seconds would be typical. Did a journalist accidentally add “milli” to “seconds”, or is it possible that a psychiatrist seriously thinks that ECT involves administering one electrical impulse lasting a few milliseconds? Perhaps. Or perhaps he was getting confused with wave-form, where the pulse width could be up to two milliseconds. But then there would be over a hundred pulses in a typical two second shock – not just one.
The article said:
“The jury ruled that she died as a result of a “rare complication following the lawful and necessary administration of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)”.”