People suffering from chronic pain are in some cases waiting more than two years for treatment to manage their debilitating symptoms. Data shows&
People suffering from chronic pain are in some cases waiting more than two years for treatment to manage their debilitating symptoms.
Data shows 87 per cent of NHS clinics are taking longer than an eight-week target set out by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).
Patients at the Royal Free Hospital in London are being seen in an average of 37 weeks, while those being treated by NHS Highland in Scotland are waiting between 40 and 112 weeks.
Without treatment, patients may be living with pain so debilitating that some even consider suicide, research has shown.
People suffering from chronic pain are in some cases waiting more than two years for treatment to manage their debilitating symptoms (stock image)
Chronic pain is defined as pain which lasts for longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment.
It is thought to affect 28million adults in the UK, with up to 14 per cent of sufferers claiming their discomfort has left them severely disabled. An estimated one in five adults in the US also suffer from it.
Guidelines from the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) saying that the waiting time for an appointment should be no longer than eight weeks.
And the NHS says that patients should wait no longer than 18 weeks between being referred by their GP and being treated for non-urgent issues.
But the latest investigation shows that patients in the UK are waiting far longer than they should to be treated.
Data obtained by a Freedom of Information request shows that patients at some NHS clinics are waiting more than two years for treatment.
Experts said longer wait times often mean a patient’s health has got worse by the time they get help.
Dr Lorraine de Gray, a pain consultant at Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn, in Norfolk, said: ‘My experience of seeing patients in the pain clinic is that it has been a long, long time before they actually get there.
‘And a lot of them have lost faith in the medical profession by the time they do.’
The data, which was revealed by the Pharmaceutical Journal, showed that 87 per cent of the 39 NHS clinics which responded to the information request are taking longer than the eight-week IASP target to treat patients.
In addition, 26 per cent of pain management clinics in England and Scotland took longer than 18 weeks to see patients.
In Wales, four out of five providers had average waiting times of 20 weeks, although this was within NHS Wales’s target for patients to be seen within 36 weeks.
The hospital with the highest average time was the Royal Free Hospital in London, although patients being treated by NHS Highland in Scotland faced potential waits of more than two years.
A spokesperson for the service said the delays were a result of ‘increased referrals to the pain management service’.
A spokesperson for the Royal Free said waiting times would be reduced by them offering chronic pain treatment within the community rather than in hospital.
They said that future patients would only be referred to the Royal Free if they needed treatment in the hospital itself.
The Whittingdon Health NHS Trust, also in London, took between 32 and 60 weeks to see patients.
Others to taking longer than 18 weeks included the Countess of Chester hospital in Liverpool, which took 35 weeks on average, and Mid and South Essex University Hospitals group, which took 27.
But patients being treated at clinics run by University Hospitals Bristol waited an average of just six weeks.
Similarly, patients at clinics in Northampton, Nottingham and Kettering waited less than eight weeks.
Other health experts said patients can ‘dramatically’ deteriorate by the time they are treated.
Emma Davies, advanced pharmacy practitioner in pain management at Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board in Wales, said: ‘Patients can deteriorate over that time quite dramatically.
‘It is harder for pain services to support more debilitated or severely affected people and their options may be more limited.’
Antony Chuter, chair of charity Pain UK, said that there should be more specialised services available in the community so that they are easier for patients to access.
‘The system is failing patients, it’s failing GPs. And pain consultants in the hospitals probably feel that everything is being thrown at them,’ he said.
A Welsh government spokesman said the ‘long-term’ solution to waiting times rested in patients being treated outside hospital and managing pain themselves.
The Scottish government said: ‘Living with chronic pain can be incredibly difficult and we are determined to improve services for all those affected.
‘We know that in some areas of Scotland, people wait too long to be seen for the first time after they are referred to a pain clinic.
‘We continue to work with relevant NHS boards on actions they are taking to improve performance, supported by record investment and our reform programme.’