By Jorge Branco
A Brisbane hospital accused of impairing a patient's memory after more than 140 electric shock treatments has been taken to court.The 37-year-old mental health patient, referred to only as Mr S, has received regular electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) at the Prince Charles Hospital for several years.
ECT, administered by a machine such as this one, is commonly prescribed to treat illnesses including depression and schizophrenia.Photo: Darren West
Late that year, he was placed in seclusion for eight consecutive months after punching a staff member, according to court documents.
In a Supreme Court of Queensland bid due for early consideration on Wednesday to block the “extraordinary” treatment, Queensland’s Public Advocate argued his condition had not improved since the shock therapy.
Mental health examinations filed along with the application revealed the man, held under an involuntary treatment order, claimed the treatments affected his memory and “harms his brain”.
An expert brought in by Public Advocate Mary Burgess to examine him agreed there was “clear evidence of short-term memory impairment”.
“Clearly, the cumulative effects of repeated doses of ECT had significantly interfered with Mr S’s memory,” he wrote after a visit on January 23.
ECT is commonly prescribed to treat illnesses including depression and schizophrenia. In 2014-15, almost 500 patients involuntarily detained under the Mental Health Act received the treatment in Queensland.
Mr S was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at 16, had been homeless at times and was hospitalised continuously since 2011, according to a lengthy assessment in February by neuropsychiatric expert Professor Harry McConnell.
The man told Professor McConnell he had “no friends in or out of hospital, no visitors and no family” and the Office of the Public Guardian was appointed as his legal guardian in July 2016.
Mr S had been in the Prince Charles Hospital Mental Health Rehabilitation Unit since 2011, where doctors said he had repeatedly been aggressive, thrown furniture and in one case punched a staff member.
He was charged with property offences in August 2011 after he threw chairs in the food court of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital and damaged a car mirror, fire panel control box and glass door window.
In an application for emergency ECT made on December 22 last year, hospital doctors argued previous stretches of the treatment had resulted in improvements to some parts of his behaviour.
Attempts to reduce the weekly treatments in August were said to result in a “rapid decline in mental state”.
According to her submissions, Ms Burgess became concerned about Mr S’s “extraordinary regime of electroconvulsive therapy” when she began reading about his case for the June 2016 hearing into her appointment as his guardian.
She also noted concerns with the eight-month rolling seclusion, “which provided for the confinement of a patient at any time of the day or night alone in a room or area from which free exit was prevented”.
Mental health professionals had noted Mr S’s preference for briefly secluding himself when he began to think aggressive thoughts.
Ms Burgess took action against the hospital and doctors Jayne Moriarty and Gail Robinson this month in response to the application for emergency ECT granted on January 24.
She claimed not to have been informed of the order being sought until after it was granted and moved to have it quashed.
Ms Burgess also sought an order that the hospital not “administer further ECT to Mr S without lawful authority”.
A spokeswoman for Metro North Hospital and Health Service, the hospital's governing body, said modern ECT was safe and effective at treating severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
"Decisions to use ECT are always made very carefully in accordance with the law by a team of highly qualified clinical staff, based on a thorough assessment of the patient’s clinical condition and the goal of delivering the best outcomes," she said, in a statement.
A directions hearing was set down for Wednesday.