Concerns over facilities for shock therapy

PRONI Public Records Office Northern Ireland files secret files.
PRONI Public Records Office Northern Ireland files secret files.

A file about the controversial practice of electroconvulsive therapy for those with mental illnesses reveals serious concerns about the facilities for such treatments in Northern Ireland at the start of the 1980s.

A report by the Department of Health’s survey team, which inspected facilities in 1982, found that the facilities normally used for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) at the Ards Psychoneurosis Unit were “totally unsatisfactory”.

It also found that there was no defibrillator at the Albertbridge Road Day Hospital in east Belfast or Alexandra Gardens Day Hospital in the north of the city while there were “outdated ECT machines” at Alexandra Gardens and at Downshire Hospital.

Nevertheless, the report said that across Northern Ireland the picture was better.

It said: “The department’s consultant adviser had visited the Province’s psychiatric hospitals and was reasonably satisfied with the accommodation and equipment in use.”

The report acknowledged that ECT — which is still used by the NHS — was a “controversial treatment”.

The file contains figures for the use of the therapy in Northern Ireland during 1982.

There were almost 1,200 patients who were given the treatment during the year, with more than 5,000 individual treatments during the 12-month period.

That represented a slight increase from the previous year’s figures.