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Patients Association Report on Public Attitudes to Pain

The Patients Association have today published a report on “Public Attitudes to Pain” which is the largest survey of its kind on public attitudes to pain and chronic pain ever performed in the . Chronic pain is continuous, long-term pain of more than 12 weeks or after the time that healing would have been thought to have occurred in pain after trauma or surgery


In the report, the Patients Association calls for the Government to establish a clear care pathway for chronic pain services in the NHS and to recognise chronic pain in its own right. More work must be done to ensure that patients have all the information they need to make effective and complete decisions about their care in chronic pain. We also want to see further education provided for healthcare professionals on pain services.


Approximately 7.8 million people live with pain from day to day yet there is only 1 pain specialist for every 32,000 sufferers. The total cost to the NHS and economy is unclear but adolescent chronic pain costs the NHS around £3.8 billion and back pain alone accounts for 4.9 million sick days and costs the economy £5 billion every years.


In the Patients Association's survey of over 4000 people it was found that,


. Around a third (32%) of patients were unsure how to use prescribed medication

Over half (57%) of patients were unsure about potential side effects of pain medication

. Almost a third (27%) of the public had suffered from chronic pain at some point in the last 5 years

. While many patients were aware of pain specialist services, only a quarter of chronic pain sufferers had been referred to a pain specialist

. GPs were the most common source of information for patients with many patients unaware of access to information from other sources such as pharmacists

. Many patients did not feel able to approach their GP with concerns over sides effects from medication for fear of reproach or embarrassment.

. A third of patients were not adhering to prescriptions issued by their GPs.


. Commenting on the report, Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said,


“This report reveals the shocking disparity of pain management services across the . With a lack of robust information, patients must rely on GPs and healthcare professionals who are often not equipped to deal with the specific problems that chronic pain can present. We need better information for patients to be able to make informed choices and complete decisions about their care.


We are also calling for a greater emphasis on pain to be included in the training of healthcare professionals to ensure patients can feel confident approaching them about their pain. It is deeply concerning that many patients do not take prescribed medication either because of concerns about side effects or are taking even more because they are still experiencing pain. GPs must support their patients after prescribing medication to ensure that patients understand fully why that particular drug has prescribed at that dosage. GPs must ensure that they build a good relationship with their patients so that patients have confidence in their GP and feel they can approach them if they are concerned about side effects.


We are also concerned that the current pain pathway is confusing and not clearly defined. With a move to GP commissioning it is essential that the new NHS Commissioning Board issues GPs with a clear description of the pain pathway and guidance as to how GPs should commission pain services. We would urge the Government to publish a commissioning pack on chronic pain for GPs on the best way to commission pain services.”


Dr Beverly Collett, Chair of the Chronic Pain Policy Coalition welcomed the report saying, “I welcome the Patients Association’s report on “Public Attitudes to Pain”, as the report illustrates a significant number of people suffer from chronic pain and yet suffers are neglected in the because GPs are uninformed about chronic pain and designated pain clinics.


I support the Patients Association’s calls for the Government to establish a care pathway for chronic pain services in the NHS and for further education to be provided for healthcare professionals on pain services. The formation of the new GP commissioning consortia presents a vital opportunity to ensure that care pathways are commissioned and implemented effectively.  Proper education of healthcare professionals is also crucial. During their five to six years of medical school, doctors spend just 13 hours on pain; this is simply not enough time to understand the complex problem presented by chronic pain.”


Anne Begg DBE MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Chronic Pain said, “I welcome this excellent research carried out by the Patients Association but I am disappointed to find that the NHS is still in disarray when it comes to pain services. Patients need to have the confidence to go to their doctor and talk about their pain without fear of being treated as a nuisance, they need employers to recognise that chronic pain is a seriously debilitating condition and healthcare professionals need a clear pain pathway in the NHS to follow. Most of all, people suffering from chronic pain must have access to the care and treatment they need to continue to live life to the full.


I support this report's aim to raise awareness of this often neglected issue among doctors, patients and policy makers and hope that the Government will listen to the Patients Association's calls to action and recognise chronic pain as a disease in its own right.”


Download the full report


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