Government planning end to ECT treatment

Current legislation permits treatment for unwilling patients

The Government is planning to end the practice of administering electro-convulsive treatment (ECT) to patients who are unwilling to give consent to treatment.

The Mental Health Act 2001 will be amended to ensure that those who do not wish to receive ECT -  used to treat specific types of major mental illnesses - will not be forced to do so in future.

Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health Kathleen Lynch said a reference in existing legislation that permits the treatment for unwilling patients will be removed.

Currently, section 59(b) of the 2001 Mental Health Act, states forced electro-convulsive therapy may be administered where a patient is “unable or unwilling” to give consent once it has been approved by two consultant psychiatrists.


“I know for a fact that we are taking out ‘unwilling’ from the ECT piece. That to me always did seem outrageous, so that is going to go,” she told

Mrs Lynch said the amended legislation will “dovetail” with a recently published Bill which gives statutory backing to decisions made by patients regarding the treatment they receive should they lose the capacity make decisions later.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 was published last week by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

The use of forced ECT has been in decline in recent years. Official statistics compiled in 2012 by the Mental Health Commission show a fall in the use of the treatment for the fourth year in a row.

A total of 262 individuals received ECT treatment in 2011, according to the commission.

This equates to a rate of 5.7 people per 100,000 total population. The overall mean age of residents was 56 and the median age was 57. A higher proportion of females (69.8 per cent) than males (30.2 per cent) were administered ECT.

A review of the existing legislation has been a long-standing promise that featured in the Coalition’s Programme for Government.

“Let me make it quite clear that the legislation will be changed. This Government for national recovery is committed to a review of the Act, which will be informed by human rights standards,” Mrs Lynch said in 2011.

The proposed change is now unlikely to happen before 2014.

A steering group published an interim report in June of 2012 and an expert group set up in August last year to look at their recommendations in more detail has had its deadline extended to the end of the year.

The timeframe has been extended in part to allow the expert group to consider the implications of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill for the future of mental health legislation.