Many patients are not satisfied with electroconvulsive therapy

June 19, 2003

Around 11,000 people receive electroconvulsive therapy in England each year, yet controversy exists as to whether treatment is beneficial and whether patients are satisfied with it.

A study in this week's BMJ finds that at least one third of patients report persistent memory loss after electroconvulsive therapy. This conflicts with the current statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists that over 80% of patients are satisfied with treatment and that memory loss is not clinically important.

Researchers reviewed 35 studies to ascertain patients' views on electroconvulsive therapy. Twenty-six were carried out by doctors in psychiatric units (clinician led studies) and nine were undertaken by patients or with in collaboration with them (patient led studies).

The level of positive responses varied widely between studies. Patient led studies reported lower rates of perceived benefit than clinician led studies.

The rate of reported persistent memory loss varied between 29% and 55% but, unlike levels of perceived benefit, the rate did not seem to depend on whether studies were clinical or patient based, with relatively high levels being reported by both types of study.

Given these findings, it is not surprising that disputes can arise and that organisations should emerge that provide support for those who feel their treatment has not been beneficial, say the authors.

They conclude that the current statement from the Royal College of Psychiatrists is unfounded.


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