VSRao – Pixabay

National Pain week starts today with the launch of a major new survey from Chronic Pain Australia which shows a serious deterioration in the way chronic pain sufferers feel medical professionals have helped them manage their pain since COVID-19.

With 1200 people surveyed, Chronic Pain Australia says stigma remains one of the biggest issues facing people living with chronic pain. Many respondents reported facing daily discrimination in their lives due to pain issues.

When people were asked to rate how they felt GPs were managing their pain, the average score was 5/10. When asked to rate their pharmacist’s performance managing their pain, the average was 4/10.

In previous years these numbers were much higher.

Pain in a pandemic

69% of respondents said they used telehealth options during COVID-19 restrictions, which may have contributed to a worsening of relationships with GPs and pharmacists.

The President of Chronic Pain Australia, Jarrod McMaugh, said the survey ‘demonstrates that health care professionals need to improve their approach towards how pain is managed in Australia and importantly, how people in pain are treated.’

Sarah Lotscher – Pixabay

Akii Ngo, Executive Director of CPA,  said chronic pain is one of the most debilitating and hopeless things anyone can experience.

‘As someone who has lived with it for as long as I can remember, sometimes so severe and so agonising that I’ve been hospitalised for weeks or months at a time, it can be extremely isolating and terrifying, especially without the support of good doctors and health professionals who understand, believe you and want to help,’ said Ms Ngo.

‘A dedicated doctor can truly make all the difference to your quality of life and hopes for the future.’

Stigma hurts

People in pain reported that they often felt unheard, not believed, and stigmatised when they visited their GP and pharmacist. Being suspected of being a drug seeker was commonly reported.

Mr McMaugh said, ‘What we are hearing very clearly from people in pain is that it has been challenging managing their care during COVID-19.’

He said that while many respondents said they would like to see telehealth continue, the condition of many chronic pain sufferers worsened during COVID-19 because they weren’t able to access pain self-management options like hydrotherapy, swimming pools, massage therapy, gyms and other physical therapies.

Some respondents did report benefiting from self-isolation and working from home, thanks to the respite it gave their bodies as the pace of life slowed.

Room for improvement

Mr McMaugh said the results of the survey should be an opportunity to improve how pain is managed in Australia.

‘GPs and pharmacists along with allied health professionals are essential in managing pain, and the survey results should not be used to demonise health care professionals, but be an opportunity for improvement of relationships and care to better support people living with chronic pain,’ he said.

Gerd Altmann – Pixabay

Numbers game

In terms of percentages, some key numbers from the National Pain Survey 2020 include:

  • 87% of people see an allied health professional to help manage their pain, but while 52% say accessing them is easy, 83% do not find it affordable
  • Many people living with pain support the use of medicinal cannabis as a treatment method to chronic pain, but only 33% have spoken to their GP about accessing it, with many reporting fear discussing the issue with their GP or being previously dismissed by their GP when they raised it
  • 41% of people reported having a disruption to accessing their medication over the last 12 months, with many saying that often their medication was not readily available
  • 55% of people using telehealth services are using it to see their GPs

Chronic Pain Australia says it will continue advocating with health professional bodies and government decision-makers to ensure that the issues raised in the National Pain Survey don’t go unnoticed.

More information is available at nationalpainweek.org.au.