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Pain community flexes muscles in Brussels

Pamela Bell of Pain Con­cern and Neil Bet­teridge of the Chron­ic Pain Pol­i­cy Coali­tion out­side the EU Parliament

On Thurs­day 23 June mil­lions of Britons go to the polls to decide whether to leave or remain in the Euro­pean Union. Of course that’s not an issue Pain Con­cern should or will take sides on and what­ev­er the out­come we’ll con­tin­ue to keep in touch with patient groups and health­care pro­fes­sion­als from across the con­ti­nent and beyond.

Back in May I attend­ed the Soci­etal Impact of Pain (SIP) sym­po­sium in Brus­sels as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Pain Con­cern. It’s an annu­al event that brings togeth­er the Euro­pean pain com­mu­ni­ty, so that we can speak with one voice in mak­ing pain an issue that Euro­pean deci­sion mak­ers can­not ignore. This year’s SIP event went under the head­ing ‘Time for action’ – but what kind of action and will your aver­age Euro­pean liv­ing with pain see any difference?

On the agenda

At the Euro­pean lev­el – just as it is in the UK – a major pri­or­i­ty is to push pain up the agen­da. The pres­ence at the event of sev­er­al Mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (MEP) with a pas­sion­ate com­mit­ment to improv­ing the lives of peo­ple in pain shows there has already been suc­cess at reach­ing out to politicians.

MEPs from Spain to Roma­nia came to show their sup­port of the strug­gle to reduce the dev­as­tat­ing impact of pain on indi­vid­u­als and soci­ety. Ireland’s Mar­i­an Harkin spoke espe­cial­ly mov­ing­ly of the stig­ma and accu­sa­tions of malin­ger­ing faced by peo­ple in pain, while Finland’s Sir­pa Pietikäi­nen stressed the debil­i­tat­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal impact of pain and the prob­lem of social marginalisation.

Chris Wells, Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Pain Fed­er­a­tion (EFIC) and a pain spe­cial­ist at the Wal­ton Cen­tre in Liv­er­pool was enthu­si­as­tic about the suc­cess of SIP 2016: ‘it’s by far the best SIP we’ve had because we’ve got much more patient involve­ment and MEP involvement’.

Pain at work

For There­sa Grif­fin MEP for the North West of Eng­land a par­tic­u­lar pri­or­i­ty area should be improv­ing access to employ­ment. Speak­ing to Pain Con­cern, Grif­fin empha­sised the impor­tance of holis­tic sup­port to help the 44 mil­lion peo­ple in Europe liv­ing in pain ‘to play a full part in society’.

The SIP rec­om­men­da­tions call for the EU and its mem­bers to recog­nise that man­ag­ing pain effec­tive­ly can pre­vent peo­ple from los­ing their jobs and to make it eas­i­er for peo­ple to stay in or return to work.  They also demand that laws requir­ing employ­ers to make ‘rea­son­able adjust­ments’ for employ­ees with chron­ic pain are enforced across the EU.

Future research

The EU can­not force mem­ber states to change their health­care poli­cies, so some of the rec­om­men­da­tions com­ing out of SIP 2016 will not ben­e­fit patients with­out the coop­er­a­tion of our nation­al gov­ern­ments. How­ev­er, the EU does have the pow­er to fund research, so the hope is that we can make chron­ic pain a research pri­or­i­ty for the future.

Fer­nan­do Cervero, Past Pres­i­dent of the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion for the Study of Pain, called for research focus­ing on how acute pain becomes chron­ic. Pre­ven­tion of chron­ic pain and the result­ing suf­fer­ing and bur­dens on indi­vid­u­als and soci­ety should be seen as a sound invest­ment rather than an unaf­ford­able expense, said There­sa Grif­fin. To make the case to politi­cians across Europe research is need­ed to put a fig­ure on the finan­cial cost of pain and the sav­ings we could make by improv­ing access to pain management.

Patients unit­ed

While health­care sys­tems and lev­els of care dif­fer across Europe, patient advo­ca­cy groups and health­care pro­fes­sion­als were unit­ed in sup­port­ing SIP 2016’s eight rec­om­men­da­tions. Joop van Griensven, Pres­i­dent of Pain Alliance Europe (PAE) – an organ­i­sa­tion unit­ing Europe’s pain char­i­ties – spoke of the impor­tance of rais­ing aware­ness: ‘pain is not tak­en seri­ous­ly by peo­ple in the street, most health­care pro­fes­sion­als or pol­i­cy mak­ers’. The Red Bal­loon Project, launched in Brus­sels, aims to give vis­i­bil­i­ty to the hid­den epi­dem­ic of chron­ic pain through a social media cam­paign. Below you can see my efforts in the pho­to booth. To find out how to take part, vis­it