On 22 February 2016 the Daily Mail ran an article about a doctor who was left damaged by electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) that she underwent at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital in 2004 and 2005.
“The mother-of-three says her speech and mobility have been reduced and she has been left unable to do her job. She is now demanding an independent scientific study is carried out to examine the effects of ECT. Dr Cunliffe said: ‘By the time I finished ECT I was left with memory problems, an inability to recognise faces or to navigate. ‘Towards the end my hands shook, I couldn’t walk in a straight line and I fell over repeatedly. I couldn’t walk through doors without bumping into door frames. My speech was slurred and I had word finding problems.'”
“A spokesperson for the Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust said: ‘We are aware of a request to look into the treatment given to Mrs Cunliffe back in 2005 by our predecessor trust, and will be meeting with her over the next few weeks to discuss next steps. ‘It is important that patients are reassured the ECT department was independently accredited as ‘excellent’ in 2008 and then again in 2011 by regulators.’ “
So what is the “excellent” that the hospital refers to? Presumably they are talking about the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ ECT accreditation scheme (ECTAS). This is a voluntary accreditation scheme; clinics that are not accredited can still give ECT. What do clinics have to do to get into the “excellent” category? They have to tick off a number of standards that are marked as level 3 on the ECTAS scheme. I don’t know if they have to tick them all, or just some of them, but they include things such as: offering a patient something to eat or drink after ECT; having a psychiatrist remain in building until patients have recovered consciousness; having regular team meetings. Another level 3 standard is having a team that “takes an active role in audit, academic teaching and development of evidence-based best practice of ECT”. I cannot however recall ever having seen a piece of research or article about ECT from Worcester.
Whatever the importance of such standards, they do not offer reassurance if a brain does not have immunity from damage due to a powerful electric shock (or a combination of an electric shock and the ensuing seizure) repeated a number of times over several weeks.