Treating chronic pain as a disease in its own right
Part of the problem in dealing with the issue of chronic pain is the different ways people experience pain. He says there is an “enormous variation in pain appearance for the same noxious stimulus”. He succinctly says that acute pain “is a symptom, but chronic pain is an illness”.
“When it becomes chronic, things change. Then it becomes a disease because the nervous system changes and becomes sensitive in the spinal chord and brain,” he says.
A recent international study estimated that almost one in five Europeans has some form of chronic pain and the bill is in the order of €300 billion a year. A compendium of Irish international studies found that 13 per cent of the adult population have some form of unresolved chronic pain, yet there is an average two-year wait for diagnosis.
The Department of Social and Family Affairs estimates that lower back pain accounts for €350 million in annual disability payments.
Doctors maintain that a lot of the long-term consequences of pain could be avoided if patients were treated early. They say that a national clinical pain programme would facilitate an integrated approach which would allow pain to be treated in the most efficient fashion from the beginning.
In 2010 a European Parliament report argued that by treating pain with the same significance as other major conditions and making systems for delivering pain management more efficient, patients and member states can be assured of better outcomes and cost savings.
Organiser Dr Camillus Power, a consultant anaesthetist and director of the Ulysses Programme at Tallaght hospital, said the theme was chosen because of Ireland’s European Union presidency.
“Given the economic difficulties of the country we also felt that a chronic disease that affects 13 per cent of the population and costs the taxpayer over €4 billion per year demands a fresh look, especially since it has been left out of the national clinical care programmes and currently has no one in charge of policy nor service at a national level.” he says. “We feel that the reason for this omission is that the condition does not exist as a disease in its own right despite being a major healthcare problem.”