Objectives: The Mental Health Act (MHA) 2001 provides the legislative structure in Ireland for the involuntary admission and treatment, including with ECT, of patients suffering from mental disorders. A recent Seanad Bill proposed removing the option of administering ECT to involuntary patients who do not provide informed consent. This controversial issue has stimulated extensive media and stakeholder debate. In this study we explored the attitudes of consultant psychiatrists towards prescribing ECT for involuntary patients.
Methods: We compiled a current list of consultant psychiatrists attached to approved centres nationwide. We sent a study specific questionnaire to consultants of all adult psychiatry specialties.
Results: From the 249 individualised anonymous questionnaires posted, 164 (66%) were returned and analysed. When clinically indicated for involuntary patients willing to consent to ECT treatment, 159 (97%) consultants stated that they would and three (2%) would not prescribe ECT. For involuntary patients who lack capacity and are unable to consent, 157 (96%) consultant psychiatrists stated that they would and six (4%) that they would not prescribe ECT. For involuntary patients who have capacity to consent but are unwilling to do so, 52 (32%) consultant psychiatrists stated they would and 104 (63%) would not prescribe ECT.
Conclusions: The overwhelming majority of consultant psychiatrists would prescribe ECT for involuntary patients who are unable to consent to this treatment. Divergent attitudes emerged for treating patients who are unwilling to consent, with most consultant psychiatrists stating they would not prescribe ECT for this patient group.