Background: Current mental health legislation in the UK makes provision for the use of certain treatments in severely ill patients who are unable, or unwilling, to give informed consent. Under the terms of this legislation, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used, usually to treat severely depressed patients. A number of organizations have challenged this practice, stating that ECT should only be given with fully informed consent: it has been implied that patients receiving compulsory ECT (given without the patient's consent, under the terms of mental health legislation) find the treatment damaging and unhelpful.
Methods: A series of 150 patients receiving ECT in Aberdeen was studied. A proportion of the series (approximately 7%) received compulsory ECT. The views and treatment outcomes of compulsory patients were compared with those of patients giving informed consent for treatment.
Results: More than 80% of patients in both consenting and compulsory groups considered ECT to have helped them. Clinical outcome did not differ between the groups. Patients' views showed marked concordance with independent medical evaluation of outcome.
Conclusions: Outcome following ECT in non-consenting patients is equivalent to that seen in consenting patients whether rated by the patients themselves or by clinicians. Overall outcome is good, with more than 80% of patients benefiting from treatment. A ban on compulsory ECT would deny the access of seriously ill patients to an effective and acceptable treatment.