Queensland, Australia, and New Zealand have similar-sized populations – about 4.7 million – and their psychiatrists share a professional body, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. But use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is very different in the two countries.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health has just published the annual report (2016) of the office of the director of mental health. In 2016, 251 people in New Zealand underwent a total of 2,746 treatments. There has been little change in the number of people receiving ECT over recent years (in 2012 for example 265 people received 2670 treatments). Women accounted for 62 per cent of ECT patients. Almost one-third of patients were aged over 65. Forty-one per cent of ECT was given to people who had not consented. All ECT in New Zealand is given in public, rather than private, hospitals.
In some ways the use of ECT in New Zealand is similar to that in England, Wales and Scotland: a low use, with women and older people over-represented in the statistics, and a relatively high proportion of patients treated without their consent. But, unlike England, Wales and Scotland, New Zealand retains mental health legislation that allows psychiatrists to give ECT to people who don’t want it, even if they have the capacity to make a decision. In 2016, ten of the 102 people treated without their consent were having their capacitious decision over-ruled.
Meanwhile, in Queensland, Australia, the mental health tribunal approved 506 applications to use ECT on non-consenting patients in the year 2015-16, according to an article in the Brisbane Times. That is five times as many as in New Zealand.