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UK lags behind most of Europe in managing chronic pain

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Publication Date: 28 September 2010

A report launched on 29 September 2010, highlights serious inefficiencies in the management of chronic pain within the UK healthcare system. According to the Pain Proposal European Consensus Report, people in the UK wait on average three years for a diagnosis and then a further three years before their chronic pain is adequately managed – comparatively longer than in most other European countries.

When compared to Italy, France and Belgium, people in the UK who experience chronic pain wait twice the time for a diagnosis. This new research was commissioned for inclusion in a pan-European consensus report, the Pain Proposal, developed by a range of European experts in the fields of chronic pain, policy and economics in partnership with Pfizer. It calls for improvements to healthcare systems, changes which could save an increasingly cash-strapped UK economy money, while improving the lives of those affected by chronic pain.

People with chronic pain are so affected by their condition that it impacts their ability to do their job for a third of their day, and four in ten people are unable to work at all. The problem is compounded by the fact that chronic pain is not taken seriously enough by people in the UK, with over half of sufferers surveyed believing that people doubt the existence of their condition and over a quarter of them having been accused of using it as an excuse not to work. People with chronic pain want to be active members of society.

‘Chronic pain not only imposes a huge burden on people’s lives but seriously impacts society. Inefficiencies in management of chronic pain mean that people with the condition are either not being treated or are waiting years for adequate management, resulting in many people unable to achieve their full potential in the workplace. There are excellent examples across the country where clinics are doing an impressive job managing chronic pain using multidisciplinary treatment pathways across primary and secondary care and we need to share best practice across the country, so we can improve chronic pain management in the UK and be one of the future leaders in Europe,’ commented Dr Beverly Collett, Consultant in Pain Medicine, University Hospitals of Leicester and Chair of the Chronic Pain Policy Coalition (CPPC).

Chronic pain affects one in five people in Europe with nearly eight million people in the UK suffering from many types of pain. Chronic pain not only affects people’s working lives, but according to a separate UK survey, many people with chronic pain are unable to do everyday activities such as household chores or socialise with their friends and families. Chronic pain has a devastating impact on the individual with a quarter of people affected having suffered from depression and many feeling that their pain is so bad at times that they want to die.

As well as affecting people’s lives, poorly managed chronic pain is costing the UK health system millions. The condition accounts for 4.6 million GP appointments each year, at a cost of £69 million. Back pain alone, the most common form of chronic pain, is estimated to cost the UK economy £12.3 billion annually in direct and indirect costs.

The recommendations in the Pain Proposal calls for those involved in the management of pain to:

  • establish clear management pathways for people with chronic pain
  • recognise and acknowledge the challenge chronic pain presents to European and UK society and commit to change
  • protect and champion the rights of people with chronic pain
  • make a coordinated effort to work together to improve the management of pain across Europe and the UK

See the full report, Pain Proposal

Supporting the call to action from the Pain Proposal European Consensus Report is a campaign that aims to give people with chronic pain and their families a voice in the UK.

The ‘Can You Feel My Pain?’ campaign encourages people to take action and call for improved management of pain by registering their support for the Bill of Rights petition which champions the rights of people living with chronic pain, including access to early intervention and optimal pain management.

Chronic pain sufferers are also encouraged through the web-based campaign to share their pain experiences online by capturing their stories and show, through chronic pain inspiring photography, what their pain feels like. Find out more about campaign from Action on Pain and the Facebook page, Can You Feel My Pain?

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