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Chronic pain sufferers forced to wait two years for diagnosis

Pain ImagePeople suffering from chronic pain in Ireland have to wait two years on average for a diagnosis and treatment, according to new research, reported recently in the Irish Times.

The research, coincided with the release of a report calling for significant improvements in chronic pain management in the State.

Chronic pain affects 13 per cent of the population – about 400,000 people – and is estimated to cost the economy €2.5 billion per annum in absenteeism, treatment costs and disability payments.

Dr Liam Conroy, director of the department of pain medicine at the Mercy Hospital in Cork, said the fact that patients face unnecessary delays not only increases healthcare costs, but also costs to the social welfare system, insurance companies and employers.

The Department of Social Protection alone paid out €350 million in disability allowances to people with low back pain last year.

He said waiting two years or more for diagnosis and treatment was very common. Patients might go to their GP and be referred to a neurologist, an orthopaedic surgeon or several other specialists and go through a battery of tests before diagnosis.

A survey of more than 2,000 chronic pain sufferers across 15 European countries – 101 of whom were in Ireland – found 42 per cent of them think others, including employers and peers, doubt the existence of their pain and 25 per cent have been accused of using pain as an excuse not to work. And among over 100 GPs surveyed in Ireland, less than half were confident they would know what to do if a patient still complained of pain after treatment.

The report calls for routes to treatment to be simplified, for pain medicine to be recognised as a medical speciality by the Medical Council and for training on chronic pain to be provided to all healthcare providers.

Among the main causes of chronic pain are arthritis, cancer, diabetes, road traffic incidents and increasingly sports injuries.

Gina Plunkett, chairwoman of Chronic Pain Ireland, who has lived with chronic pain for 14 years and had to give up her job as a barrister after her car was rear-ended, said many of those who have chronic pain are not believed.

Her pain wasn’t visible to onlookers but it was so bad she wanted to crawl up in a ball and die.

But seven years on she had a procedure known as radio frequency (R.F.) ablation, which involves killing off nerve endings and this helped alleviate her pain somewhat. 

She called for recognition of chronic pain as a disease, for a national pain strategy and for the appointment of more pain specialists.

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