A new Government action plan will help improve the pain management of the one in five Australians who live with chronic pain.
National peak body Painaustralia launched the new National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management to set out ways to improve access to and knowledge of best practice pain management, over the next three years.
Many people living with pain cannot access pain management due to cost, location or low awareness of treatment options, all issues Chief Executive Officer of Painaustralia, Carol Bennett says the national action plan will address.
“This Action Plan provides us with a clear pathway to meet the challenges that chronic pain poses to all Australians.
“The Australian Government and Minister Hunt have demonstrated their commitment to addressing chronic pain, with an election commitment of $6.8 million to deliver better pain management across Australia, as well as the establishment of a National Advisory Council on Pain.
Ms Bennett says the Australian Government and Minister of Health Greg Hunt funded and supported the development of the first-ever National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management (NSAPPM) in May last year.
Since then, consultations with consumers, consumer groups, clinicians, allied health practitioners, key health groups, researchers, experts and the whole community has helped clearly outline key priorities going forward.
The plan highlights a need for greater awareness of pain and pain management, more timely access to consumer-centred interdisciplinary services and research to underpin greater knowledge of pain, as well as new treatments, further research, clinical evidence and technology.
MS Australia is one of the peak bodies that contributed to the development of the plan in its early stages.
National Policy Officer of MS Australia, Andrew Giles says the new plan appears very details and comprehensive although somewhat ambitious.
“It will be interesting to see what is achieved in the next three years.
“It would have been good to include in the Plan, some details of who specifically is responsible for all of the initiatives and activities in the key goals and actions section, an estimated timeline for achievement, and how achievements, or not, will be reported back to stakeholders,” he says.
Mr Giles also wants to hear a commitment from the Department of Health that all the initiatives and activities outlined in the plan will be funded.
“Some of us in the not-for-profit sector have become a little jaded with the plethora of plans and proposed activities, yet very little in the way of transparent feedback or reporting of outcomes.”
He says some of the actions within the plan, if achieved, will make a great difference to people living with MS, including the smartphone apps providing a best practice guide for people with chronic pain on their health care journey and the training of healthcare professionals.
“The key goals and actions that refer to employment and work have an emphasis on ‘return to work’, but it would be good to see some initiatives around supporting people with a chronic, progressive, neurological condition like MS being supported to stay at work for as long as possible and to have their pain symptoms managed during relapses or as their condition progresses.”
He says state organisations and the MS Employment Service are already doing wonderful work in this space.
Casual Academic at RMIT University, Dr Joni Meenagh says she is pleased to see more access to allied health services but is concerned about the proposed changes to pain medication access.
"Pain medication provides immediate temporary relief, whereas physical therapies can provide ongoing relief but this relief is not immediate and can be quite a long and intensive process.
“My concern is that this new policy will make pain medication more difficult to access without providing enough support for individuals experiencing chronic pain to appropriately manage via alternative therapies.
“People experiencing chronic pain need to be able to transition into appropriate treatment plans while still accessing pain medications, and the risk with this policy is that pain medication will become less accessible before appropriate alternative therapies either can be accessed or have time to be effective.”
Dr Meenagh says there is also an issue with the amount of support provided to people experiencing chronic pain.
“Twenty sessions per year is a great start, but it is not enough to realistically manage chronic pain.
“Appropriate treatments are expensive and can be difficult to access. This needs to be taken into account when considering access to pain medication.
“Likewise, with a range of different alternative therapies available, it can be a process of trial and error to find what works.
“It may then be the case that people find they have used up their twenty sessions before finding an effective treatment,” she says.
Chronic pain is pain that continues for more than three months and often has its inception in surgery, an injury, or as a result of disease or a chronic condition like arthritis or lower back pain. ‘
The number of Australians living with chronic pain is set to rise from 3.24 million to 5.23 million by 2050.
“Australia now has the opportunity to lead the world with the implementation of the first, fully funded Government response to comprehensively addressing the burden of pain,” Ms Bennett says.
The action plan is funded by the Department of Health and you can read it here.