How patients in some parts of Britain are waiting TWO YEARS for NHS treatment to manage their agonising symptoms

  • NHS Highland taking between 40 and 112 weeks to see chronic pain patients
  • Patients at the Royal Free in London are waiting an average of 27 weeks
  • International Association for the Study of Pain says wait should be max 8 weeks
  • NHS advises waiting time between referral and treatment should be 18 weeks 

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.’

WHICH HOSPITAL CLINICS TOOK THE LONGEST TO SEE CHRONIC PAIN PATIENTS?

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.’

EXERCISES FOR LOWER BACK PAIN

Bed rest used to be advised to help a bad back, but it’s now known that people who remain active are likely to recover more quickly, according to NHS Choices.

This may be difficult at first, but don’t be discouraged – your pain will start to improve eventually. Consider taking painkillers if the pain is stopping you from carrying on as normal. 

Going back to work will help you return to a normal pattern of activity and may distract you from the pain.

Below are exercises, from physiotherapist Nick Sinfield, that you can do to help reduce any lower back pain including tension, stiffness and soreness. 

When starting out, go gently to get used to the movements and work out how far you can go into each position without feeling pain. Aim to do this routine at least once a day if the pain allows. 

You can complement this routine with walking, cycling and water-based activities.

Seek medical advice before starting these back pain exercises, and to stop immediately if you feel any pain.

Bottom to heels stretch 

Start position: Kneel on all fours, with your knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Don’t over-arch your lower back. Keep your neck long, your shoulders back and don’t lock your elbows.

Action: Slowly take your bottom backwards, maintaining the natural curve in the spine. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position.

Repeat 8 to 10 times.

This bottom to heels exercise stretch and mobilise the spine

Tips:

  • Avoid sitting back on your heels if you have a knee problem
  • Ensure correct positioning with the help of a mirror
  • Only stretch as far as feels comfortable

Knee rolls  

Start position: Lie on your back. Place a small flat cushion or book under your head. Keep your knees bent and together. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Action: Roll your knees to one side, followed by your pelvis, keeping both shoulders on the floor. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return to the starting position.

Repeat 8 to 10 times, alternating sides.

Knee rolls also work by stretching and mobilising the spine

Tips:

  • Only move as far as feels comfortable
  • Place a pillow between your knees for comfort

Back extensions

Start position: Lie on your stomach, and prop yourself on your elbows, lengthening your spine. Keep your shoulders back and neck long.

Action: Keeping your neck long, arch your back up by pushing down on your hands. You should feel a gentle stretch in the stomach muscles as you arch backwards. Breathe and hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Return to the starting position.

Repeat 8 to 10 times.

Don’t bend your neck backwards when carrying out this back extension move

Tips:

  • Don’t bend your neck backwards
  • Keep your hips grounded 

Deep abdominal strengthening

Start position: Lie on your back. Place a small, flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet straight and hip-width apart. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Action: As you breathe out, draw up the muscles of your pelvis and lower abdominals, as though you were doing up an imaginary zip along your stomach. Hold this gentle contraction while breathing from your abdomen for 5 to 10 breaths, and relax.

Repeat 5 times.

These exercises strengthen the deep supporting muscles around the spine

Tips:

  • This is a slow, gentle tightening of the lower abdominal region. Don’t pull these muscles in using more than 25% of your maximum strength
  • Make sure you don’t tense up through the neck, shoulders or legs

Pelvic tilts 

Start position: Lie on your back. Place a small, flat cushion or book under your head. Bend your knees and keep your feet straight and hip-width apart. Keep your upper body relaxed and your chin gently tucked in.

Action: Gently flatten your low back into the floor and contract your stomach muscles. Now tilt your pelvis towards your heels until you feel a gentle arch in your lower back, feeling your back muscles contracting and return to the starting position.

Repeat 10 to 15 times, tilting your pelvis back and forth in a slow rocking motion.

Pelvic tilts are recommended to stretch and strengthen the lower back

Tips:

  • Keep your deep abdominals working throughout
  • Don’t press down through the neck, shoulders or feet

Modification: Place one hand on your stomach and the other under your lower back to feel the correct muscles working.

Source: NHS Choices 

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