There's a presumption that patients have a right to treatment.
There's a duty of care that mental health folk have to patients.
There're laws passed (statutory instruments) that give us the tools to undertake this care.
All well and good, most of the time. But what if it's taken to extremes? Who should be treated, and how much, for how long? At best it's quirky and autocratic care, at it's worst it's paternalistic and tyrannical health care. Gets you thinking, this does, when patients crop up with unmet clinical needs that could be treated.
Let's take a lady and call her Alice. Alice is elderly and depressed. She's often had bouts of depression in the past so has a diagnosis of F33.2 Recurrent depressive disorder, current episode severe, without psychotic symptoms. She was unable to look after herself well, feeling weary and disinterested in "stuff to deal with" to get through a day, wasn't eating anything but gingernut biscuits and wasn't drinking much fluid at all. She smoked over 100 cigarettes in a day (usually it's less than 20) and was too demotivated to go and get more so was withdrawing from nicotine abruptly, too. Life's bleak, she'd rather go to sleep and not wake up. She's no energy, no hope, no joy, no quality sleep, no feeling refreshed, no motivation. She feels utterly worthless and a nuisance to everyone.
2 months ago she was right as rain.
In the past when this has happened she's had ECT, been cured, gone home and stayed well for between 10 to 22 months before another depressive episode occurs.
She refuses people coming in to her home to help. It's started anyway, but she doesn't let them in. She refuses hospital admission and is fading away fast. She's admitted under section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 for treatment of her underlying mental disorder, depression.
She refuses medication and historically has poor concordance with prescribed medication on discharge, with the only antidepressants in her flat on this occasion being 4 months out of date and untouched.
She's said in the past that she doesn't want ECT again.
Through her depression she's got marked bradyphrenia, depressive cognitions, cognitive distortions and abberant ideation. She's not frankly psychotic, but her thought process are disturbed through her depression so, within the meaning of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, she has imparied function of her mind and is an incapacitated adult (with respect to the decision to determine current treatment such as ECT).
This time, what should happen?
It's not even up for discussion as the law stands; she should have ECT :
- she has a mental disorder
- we have a duty of care
- she has been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 for the treatment of this mental disorder
- statistically we know ECT is the treatment of choice (better outcomes than tablets, swifter resolution of symptoms, safer with half the mortality of antidepressants) and specifically we know it works very well for her, very quickly, such that's she's well and functioning independently for a year or two even off all medication. So the clinical intervention of choice, for her, at this stage, is ECT
- she refuses ECT and has, in writing, an Advance Decision refusing ECT treatment. But ECT can be given under Part IV of the Mental Health Act 1983 under section 62 then with a Second Opinion doctor agreeing under section 58, so we've a statutory instrument allowing us to deliver the care she needs.
- ECT is given, she gets better after 4 sessions (two weeks) but has 2 more sessions to consolidate the treatment course, she's regraded and discharged and is well
Outcome : a lady got the care she needed when she was unwell and vulnerable and was cured, for a while at least.
As an aside, having taken advice on this, if her Consultant Psychiatrist didn't give her ECT he'd be open to claims of medical negligence (having a duty of care, admitting her for treatment, having a statutory instrument to use to deliver the treatment but then electing not to do this and thus not providing her with the care she needs and deserves). Like it or not, that's the law as it stands today in England.
I'm totally for people with insight making rational decisions about their current and future care. Some people can very sensibly and very thoughtfully describe why they will or won't buy in to treatments offered to them and make a choice on this. Whether I agree or disagree with that choice then, generally, is irrelevant . . . I'm bound to accept their wishes.
The revisions to the Mental Health Act 1983 are making things slightly different. In the future, if you've an Advance Decision to refuse treatment (including ECT treatment) andf that Advance Decision is undertaken in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act 2005, it'll be legally binding. The Mental Health Act 1983 can't then be used to deliver ECT even if the person's incapacitated with regards to this decision.
I wonder what this will mean for Alice.