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Proposed national chronic pain strategy
Friday 23 October 2009
Doctors hope strategy will help chronic pain sufferers
CANCER patients and others suffering chronic pain remain "outrageously badly managed" on ineffective therapies -- a scandal that experts hope to turn around with a world-first national strategy to improve training and treatments.
The first draft of a proposed national pain strategy calls for chronic pain lasting more than three months to be considered a disease in its own right rather than a symptom, based on evidence that it causes physical changes in the spinal cord and even brain.
Experts attending a pain summit in Melbourne say chronic pain be included as a fifth vital sign that should be recorded at the same time as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and breathing rate.
Pain specialist Michael Cousins said it was "rather shocking" that less than half of patients with acute pain and cancer pain were receiving effective treatment, but "with chronic lung cancer pain it's much worse -- less than 10 per cent of people" were getting proper relief.
"That's clearly a situation that can't continue from a humanitarian point of view," said Professor Cousins, a former president of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.
Two years ago, an Access Economics report found pain cost the Australian economy $34 billion a year and caused more than 30 million lost work days, with one in five Australians affected.
Professor Cousins said the situation was caused by factors such as poor training and inappropriate attitudes among doctors and nurses, and a social stigma affecting people particularly with non-cancer chronic pain.
Not only did this lower outcomes, it also lowered patients' own expectations of what could or should be done to help them, he said.
The strategy will call on the federal government, universities and colleges and other organisations to improve pain treatment, including increasing the understanding of health workers through improved training.
He said better education of patients was needed, given the widespread belief in a large number of myths about pain -- such as the idea a severe pain indicated a severe injury or disease, or that strong pain required strong drugs.
The article originally appeared here.
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