Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Mental Health Colm Keaveney has expressed alarm at the surge in cases where Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) has been used against a patient’s will.

Figures released to Deputy Keaveney through a Parliamentary Question show that 42 patients with mental health illnesses were subjected to ECT without their consent last year. The figure has been rising significantly year on year and has almost doubled since 2011 when 22 patients were subjected to ECT without their consent.

“I am appalled that in this day and age, the number of patients forced to undergo ECT against their will is actually increasing. People would have assumed that the practice of imposing medical interventions on patients without their consent, particularly interventions such as ECT that have serious side-effects, would be over,” said Deputy Keaveney.

“ECT can be an extremely traumatic treatment used for patients with severe mental health difficulties.  While research shows that it can be effective, it puts severe pressure on a patient’s body and the side effects can be lasting. To expose a patient to this treatment against their will is nothing short of cruel and a breach of a person’s human rights.

“According to the figures, 42 involuntary mental health patients were forced to undergo ECT against their will last year. That’s up from 34 patients in 2013, 29 in 2012 and 22 patients in 2011. The number of cases has been rising significantly year on year. It’s is very clear that the practice of non-consensual ECT is on the increase in Ireland.

“Only a couple of years ago, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture urged countries to place an absolute ban on all forced medical interventions against people without their consent, including the use of ECT. Other countries have moved ahead on this and have made the practice illegal.

“We have spent the last two decades coming to terms with the historic abuse of human rights that took place in our institutions. Our mental health services historically were yet another example of such institutional abuse. Much progress has been made over the past 20 years in the area of mental health care. This is a legacy issue that must now be addressed.

“This must act as a wake-up call for the Government.  I am calling for legislation to outlaw the practise of forcing mental health patients to undergo ECT against their will. There has been a political consensus on the need for such legislation for over a decade now and it is past time to act on it.”