Southern District Health Board's rate of electroconvulsive therapy, at more than double the national average, is the highest in New Zealand, the latest report of the director of mental health shows.

Dr John Crawshaw's recently-released 2011 report shows the national average for the controversial therapy last year was about seven patients per 100,000 head of population. Treating nearly 18 patients per 100,000 people, the southern board's rate was the highest of the 20 boards.

The report shows that in 2011, 53 Southern patients received ECT. The board recently advised an extra three patients received ECT in 2011, but this could not be incorporated into the statistical analysis, the report said.

Per head of population, Canterbury was third highest, and West Coast second.


In raw numbers, Southern was second to Canterbury, which treated 60 patients.

The lowest rates were reported by Auckland, Whanganui, and Hutt Valley District Health Boards.

The report points out that DHBs with older populations, smaller populations, and those with better access to the treatment will have the highest rates. Nationally, those in the 60-64 age group were most likely to be treated with ECT.

This year, the reporting period has been altered to calendar years, rather than fiscal years, meaning the report included an additional six-month period to avoid a gap. From July 2010 to December 2010, Southern treated more patients (34) with ECT than any other board.

Otago's mental health medical director, psychiatrist Dr James Knight, said it was inadvisable to compare district health boards, because of demographic and other factors.

The figures were useful for tracking year-on-year changes, however.

The Dunedin School of Medicine's department of psychological medicine was undertaking a clinical audit of ECT use at Southern DHB.

Its purpose was to learn more about the types of patients who received ECT in Southern, Dr Knight said, in an email.

Announced last October, when the board said it was responding to public concern about ECT use in Southern, it would be released early next year.

What is ECT? A pulse of electricity delivered to a patient's brain in order to produce a seizure. Although controversial, ECT is an effective treatment for various types of mental illness. Source: Director of mental health's annual report 2011.