Audit of the ECT Service in Walsall UK against the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) Guidelines

July-December 2008 Volume 5(2)


Rashda Tabassum, Syed Hassan Jawed, Usman Khalid, Sarabjeet Kohli
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Objective: The aim of the audit was to ensure that the referral practices and assessment methods of patients who received ECT were carried out and documented as per the NICE Guidelines 2003.
Design: Descriptive/Cross sectional study.
Place and Duration of Study: Study was carried out at Dorothy Pattison Hospital (DPH) Walsall Teaching Primary Care Trust, West Midlands, United Kingdom. Data was collected between July and August 2006.
Subjects and Methods: Study includes all the in-patients referred for ECT during a 6 month period from December 2005 to July 2006. Data was collected by looking at examination of the patient’s notes to establish the adherence to all 9 standards required by NICE Guidance 2003.
Results: Total number of patients was 16 (9 females and 7 males) the results show that ECT guidelines were followed and 100% compliance was achieved in all standards except two. Firstly assessment of cognitive functions, 11 patients (69%) were assessed for their cognitive functions before the course of treatment but only 7 patients (44%) were assed after the course. Secondly previous beneficial response to ECT, documentation was done in 10 out of 13 patients (77%) who previously received ECT whilst in 3 (23%) case notes there was no documentation.
Conclusion: The adherence to standards in referral and consent procedures were excellent but Cognitive Assessment prior to, during and after treatment needs to be more carefully implemented and documented because there is high incidence of cognitive dysfunction following ECT administration.


Clinical audit is a quality improvement process that seeks to improve patient care and outcomes through systematic review of care against explicit standards and the implementation of change if required. Where indicated, changes are implemented at an individual, team, or service level and further monitoring followed by a re-audit is used to confirm improvement in healthcare delivery1.
An audit cycle involves the following processes:
                        Select a topic
                        Decide on criteria and standards
                        Agree data collection rules
                        Collect data
    Reflect on results: compare with the standards set, identify the strengths and weaknesses, e.g.     knowledge, skills, attitudes, and consider potential changes.
                       Agree and implement change as necessary

                       The educational benefit from clinical audit allows a critical review of current information (keeping up to date). Audit highlights the need for specific knowledge/information, the acquisition of new skills and the development of existing ones. Audit improves communication skills and enables attitudes to be modified when working with other members of the Care Team1.
                      Electroconvulsive therapy has been a recognised physical treatment for treating Depressive Disorders and other psychiatric conditions for decades2. The original treatment using electric current that was devised by Cerletti & Bini3 has been significantly modified over the years.
                       In UK a major survey of the practice of ECT was carried out with detailed recommendations to further improve the prevalent practices4. Later the Special Committee on ECT of the Royal College of Psychiatrists published its second report that introduced specific standards covering each area of ECT practice. These standards covered the areas around the facilities, equipment, practice, personnel and training2.
                       Another Audit published in 1998 showed that, given the low standards in 1981, improvements by 1998 were modest, with only one-third of clinics meeting the College standards5.
                      In 1997 under the direction of Department of Health UK, National institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) was established, NICE is an agency of the National Health Service charged with promoting clinical excellence in NHS service providers in England and Wales, by developing guidance and recommendations on the effectiveness of treatments and medical procedures. The Institute is also responsible for assessing the safety and efficacy of interventional procedures for diagnosis and treatment. It was made responsible for providing National guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health6. NICE published its first Guidance for ECT in 20036.
                      These guidelines provide explicit standards to audit against and are therefore an excellent tool for service improvement.
                      In view of this background a clinical audit was initiated at Dorothy Pattison Hospital (DPH) Walsall to find out whether ECT services at DPH had implemented the NICE Guidance and were delivering the service accordingly.
                      It may be worth mentioning that the ECT unit at DPH is also ECT Accreditation Service (ECTAS) approved. ECTAS was set up by the Royal College of Psychiatrist7. Its purpose is to ensure and improve the quality of the administration of ECT. Participating clinics undergo a process of self and peer-review. The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Education, Training and Standards Committee award an accreditation rating to clinics that meet the essential standards. At the time of the current audit ECTAS had assigned Type 2 rating to ECT Clinic at DPH, that is a standard that an accredited clinic would be expected to meet.


We included all the patients referred to Dorothy Pattison Hospital Walsall for ECT during a 6 month period from December 2005 to July 2006.
The audit was registered with the audit department of Walsall PCT and an audit tool was developed using the standards set by the NICE Guidance (Tables 1 & 2).

The sample size was 16 patients consisting of 9 females and 7 males. Data was collected by the audit team between July and August 2006 by retrospective examination of the case notes for the patients receiving ECT during the defined period. Where required, contact was made with the team doctors to clarify any doubts. Results were finalised by December 2006.


Here are our results in relation to each of the standard of NICE Guideline for ECT

Standard 1: Documented diagnosis of the indication for ECT (Fig. 1)

Compliance required 100%
Compliance achieved 100%

The diagnosis was documented in all 16 patients.
The majority of patients 14 (87.4%) suffered from a depressive illness. A further 1(6.3%) was diagnosed as having a schizophrenic illness and 1(6.3%) of Refractory Schizophrenia/Schizoaffective Disorder. The diagnosis mentioned here are those made by the treating consultant psychiatrists.

Standard 2: Within the patient’s notes is there formal documentation that a full assessment of the potential risks and benefits of ECT has been carried out.

The assessment should include: Anaesthetic Risk Current co-morbidities Anticipated Adverse Effects Full Physical Examination Blood results as per departmental protocol
Compliance required 100%
Compliance achieved – 100%
In case of formal documentation of the assessment of potential risks and benefits standard was achieved in the all 16 patient’s case notes.

Standard 3: Documentation of other treatments being tried prior to referral for ECT (Fig. 2)

Compliance required 100%
Compliance achieved 100%
We found that patient 15 (94%) had been given trial of other treatments. One patient (6%) was given ECT in emergency due to life threatening condition which was clinically appropriate.

Standard 4: Within the patients’ notes it is documented that their clinical status has been assessed and monitored after each ECT treatment session (Fig. 3).

Compliance required 100%
Standard achieved   100%
Documentation of mental and physical state after each ECT session in patient’s notes was achieved in all cases (100%).

Standard 5: The method of consent documented in the patient’s notes (Fig 4).

Compliance required 100%
Compliance achieved 100%
A comprehensive consent form was used in all cases of 12 informal patients signed by both the patient and the doctors. Four patients were detained under the Mental Health Act (1983) and consent was not legally required from them. The Mental Health Act 1983 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom but applies only to people in England and Wales. It covers the reception, care and treatment of mentally disordered persons, the management of their property and other related matters. In particular, it provides the legislation by which people suffering from a mental disorder can be detained in hospital and have their disorder assessed or treated against their wishes, unofficially known as “sectioning”. Its use is reviewed and regulated by a special health authority known as the Mental Health Act Commission (MHAC). The Act allows the doctor in charge of the patient, in emergencies, to administer ECT without patients consent under Section 62 of the Act (9)8.

Standard 6: The consent process is followed.

Compliance required 100%
Compliance achieved 100%
The consent process includes Advocate and or carer input, where possible information provided in a suitable format and language, explains the general risks and potential benefits of ECT, does not coerce the individual into consent to the treatment. It reminds the patient that they can withdraw consent at any point. Compliance was achieved in all 16 patients (100%)

Standard 7: Documentation in the notes that the patient’s cognitive function is monitored on an ongoing basis and at the end of each treatment (Fig 5).

We were looking for the following evidence
1. Formal documentation – A formal Folstein’s MMSE (Mini Mental State Examination) done and documented within the case notes.
2. Informal documentation – An enquiry about any memory impairment by the team doctors during their clinical reviews
Compliance required 100%
Compliance achieved: 11 patients (69%) were assessed for their cognitive functions before the course of treatment but only 7 patients (44%) were assed after the course. There was no documentation on formal or informal cognitive assessment prior to treatment in 5 (31%) and after the treatment in 9 (56%) of cases.

Standard 8: Documentation within the notes for the reason of stopping ECT (Fig. 6).

Compliance required 100%
Compliance achieved 100%
The reasons for stopping ECT were documented in all case notes. In 11(69%) patients it was stopped after the adequate response was achieved, 4(25%) patients had completed the course and no benefit was achieved and 1(6%) patient withdrew the consent.

Standard 9: Documentation regarding previous beneficial response to ECT (Fig. 7)

Compliance required 100%
Compliance achieved 77%
From figure 7 you can see that 10 (77%) patients had previous beneficial response from ECT and it was documented in the case notes whilst in 3 (23%) cases there was no documentation. In 3(23%) it was not applicable due to it being their first course of ECT .


This audit highlights the importance of adhering to ECT guidelines.
Although the sample size is very small, the data does signify the importance of following the guidelines. Although we achieved 100% compliance with most standards, we fell well short of required compliance with two standards i.e. Standard 7 and 9.
The Standard 7 requires that the ‘Individual’s cognitive functions are monitored on an ongoing basis and at the end of each treatment. The adherence to this standard is particularly significant as memory impairment is a well known side effect of ECT treatment. The NICE Guidance based this standard on the clear evidence that the cognitive impairment occurred both immediately after the administration of an ECT and following a course of treatment. It particularly took a special note of the evidence form the observations of user’s experiences relating to the adverse effects of ECT. This evidence made it apparent that the nature of the cognitive impairment by the users was often long lasting to such a degree that it outweighed their perception of any benefit from the treatment6.
During our review of case note we were looking for both informal assessment as well as formal assessment by a tool like Folstein’s Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE). This is a standardised, reliable, validated but simple tool that can be used by all front line clinical staff in any clinical setting9.
The Standard 9 requires that a repeat course of ECT should only be considered only if the individual meets Standard 1 & 2 and has previously responded well to an ECT. If the person has not responded well to the treatment in the past then ECT should used as a last resort only after all other options have been considered and following discussion of risks and benefits with the individual and/or where appropriate with their carer/advocate7. We did not find a record of beneficial response in 3 out of 13 patients where a repeat treatment had been prescribed. We acknowledge that some discussion about the rationale of using it in those patients would have taken place whilst obtaining consent. However to fully comply with the NICE standard we need to ensure that details of that discussion are clearly documented in case notes.


1. We recommended that the local ECT Protocol should be revised to include the adherence to all the standards required by NICE Guidance on ECT.
2. Upon revision of the protocol a re-audit should be conducted to complete the audit cycle in 12-18 months duration.


1. National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). Principle for Best Practice in Clinical Audit. Oxford: Ratcliffe Medical Press, 2002.
2. Royal College of Psychiatrists, The ECT Handbook (Second Report of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Special Committee on ECT), London: The Royal College of Psychiatrist Publications, 1995.
3. Cerletti U, Bini I. Un nuovo metodo di shokterapia; ‘Tettroshock’. Bull Accad Medica di Roma 1938; 64: 136-8.
4. Pippard J, Ellam L. Electroconvulsive therapy in Great Britain 1980. Br J Psychiatry 1981; 139: 563-8.
5. Duffett R, Lelliot P. Auditing electroconvulsive therapy: the third cycle. Br J Psychiatry 1998; 172:401-5.
6. National Institute for Clinical Excellence. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): Guidance, Technology Appraisal 59, London: National Institute for Clinical Excellence, 2003.
7. Cresswell J, Rayner L, Hood C, O’Sullivan J. The ECT Accreditation Service (ECTAS). 4th ed. London: Royal College of Psychiatrists Research Unit, 2006.
8. Mental Health Act 1983. London: HMSO, 1993.
9. Folstein M.F, Folstein SE, McHugh PR. Mini-Mental State. A practical method for grading the cognitive state of patients for the clinician. J Psychiatric Res 1975;1: 189-98.