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‘High variation’ in pain management care, reveals National Pain Audit

Pain clinics make a real difference to the majority of their users, but many patients do not have access to adequate services or face long waiting lists. These were among the findings of the National Pain Audit (NPA), the first comprehensive survey of pain management services across England and Wales.

People living with chronic pain conditions in England and Wales will also now be able to access information about the specialist clinics in their local area after findings from the audit were made available online. By looking up your postcode you can check whether, for example, the pain clinics in your area have an occupational therapist or acupuncturist, or if they run self-help education sessions.

The three-year project carried out by the British Pain Society and Dr Foster Intelligence measured the availability and activity of NHS centres specialising in the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. The NPA found that service users typically had a very poor quality of life and that the greatest impact patients reported was on their working lives.

Only 40% of services met the minimum standards for multidisciplinary care set by the International Association for the Study of Pain, where patients are seen by coordinated teams of psychologists, physiotherapists and doctors. Waiting times were also raised as a matter for concern, as although 80% of clinics in England and 50% in Wales met the government’s eighteen-week standard, the NPA recognised the severe effect on patients’ mental and physical health of enduring extended periods awaiting treatment.

Despite these shortcomings, the potential for specialist pain services to improve the lives of people with pain is emphasised by the audit’s report. More than half of clinics surveyed reported improvements in patients’ overall quality of life, with around 70% achieving a reduction in the severity of their pain. The NPA also heard many positive accounts of their experiences from service users, especially in terms of the support and advice they received. The report suggested that the benefits these services bring to patients might at the same time prove cost effective, appearing to reduce visits to A&E for emergency pain relief.

To see information about pain clinics in your area visit:

www.nationalpainaudit.org

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