Woman sues over memory loss after electric shock therapy

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A woman who has suffered near total memory loss after electro convulsive therapy is suing her health authority. Lawyers believe the case could lead to big damages claims. Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent. looks at the claims.

Barbara Arden-Rowe was an eminent scientist and author of several texts. After her scientific career she became a teacher. Now after undergoing ECT at a local hospital she cannot even read a book - because she is unable to remember the beginning of the last sentence she has read.

The horrific impact on her life caused by the treatment given for post- natal depression even though she had last given birth 20 years before - has prompted her to sue the health authority for damages. Her lawyers believe it could lead to one of the biggest medical negligence series of cases the country has seen.

Ms Arden-Rowe, 63, from Loughborough, whose case was highlighted in a television documentary, can barely recall bringing up her children: "Apparently I took them on the Broads and they had a wonderful time. But I cannot remember it at all."

The course of 10 ETC shocks given to her in 1983 after a mental breakdown has now made it impossible for her to resume her teaching career. "How can you teach science when you can't even remember the bones in your body?" she said. "I can read a paragraph, but then it's gone so I can't read a book I can only add up three figures so I can't check bank statements."

Her solicitors Alexander Harris, from Altrincham, Cheshire, believes that her's could be the first of many cases at a time when 20,000 a year are treated with ECT, a course of treatment considered controversial by some doctors.

Ann Alexander, a senior partner, said: "Though the medical profession generally believes that ECT is a fast and effective treatment as a last resort for people with severe depression and other serious mental problems, we believe that Ms Arden-Rose's experience is not typical of many others and we are seeking to pursue a full investigation to highlight this issue."

Ms Arden-Rowe said the treatment led to her being stigmatised as mentally ill, which was not her condition.

Last night Leicestershire health Authority, which runs the Towers Hospital where she was treated, said it was unable to comment on the legal action.