PATIENTS in Oxfordshire had electroconvulsive therapy, formerly known as electro-shock therapy, on at least 12 occasions in the last five years, new figures reveal.

It comes as a recent study published in the journal Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry has called for the use of 'ECT' to be suspended immediately due to the risk of side effects such as brain damage, though it has been defended by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

NHS Digital data lists Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) among more than 100 trusts across England to have used ECT on patients from 2014/15 to 2018/19.

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The trust said, however, although it supported some elements of the treatment with anaesthetics, the patients were actually from Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs mental health services in the county.

ECT sends an electric current through someone’s brain while they are under general anaesthetic, and is used to treat some mental health problems including severe depression.

Dr John Read, professor of clinical psychology at the University of East London and co-author of the review, said the quality of previous studies into the treatment was ‘so poor that no conclusions about whether ECT works or not can be made’.

The study said all treatment should be halted due to the ‘high risk of permanent memory loss and the small mortality risk’.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which issues guidance on NHS treatments, recommends ECT for some severe cases of depression, catatonia and mania when other treatments have failed.

Dr Rupert McShane, lead consultant psychiatrist on the treatment at Oxford Health, also chairs a committee on ECT at the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

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On Friday it issued a statement defending its use, saying: “ECT as a treatment for some forms of severe mental illness should not be suspended, as this review suggests. Most people who receive ECT see an improvement in their condition. For some, it can be a life-saving treatment. As with all treatments for serious medical conditions - from cancer to heart disease - there can be side effects of differing severity.

“The close monitoring of potential side-effects is a routine part of practice and allows clinicians to adjust treatment accordingly.”

NHS Digital statistics show a patient was given ECT on at least 12 occasions at OUH between 2014/15 and 2018/19. ​Of those, at least one was in 2018/9 – the highest annual figure was for 2014-15, when there were 10. The data counts each continuous period of care and someone could undergo several courses of ECT during such a period. Annual figures are suppressed if they are between one and seven, meaning the total could be higher.

Across England, trusts recorded almost 3,500 periods of care during which a patient received ECT over the five years.