Number of patients waiting a year or more for chronic pain treatment almost trebles

The number of patients waiting a year or longer to see a specialist for chronic pain has almost trebled during the pandemic, new figures show.

At the end of March, 165 people had been waiting a year or more for an appointment, up from 57 at the same time last year, according to figures from Public Health Scotland.

The Scottish Conservatives urged health secretary Humza Yousaf to prioritise chronic pain patients in Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, while the Scottish Government said figures are improving.

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Pain is considered chronic if the patient has experienced it for at least three months.

Waiting times have almost trebled.

In January to March of this year, some 3,884 people were referred to a chronic pain clinic – broadly the same as the previous quarter.

But referrals remain lower than they were in the year before the pandemic, when on average there were 5,200 each quarter.

A total of 2,344 patients were seen at a chronic pain clinic in the period January to March 2021. This is fewer than prior to the pandemic, when an average of 3,000 patients were seen every three months.

Public Health Scotland said the fall was partly because fewer patients were being referred, and also in part because NHS boards have started offering patients alternatives to waiting to be seen by a consultant.

However, the figures have improved since December, with 233 fewer patients now waiting. The number of patients seen in January to March was 11 per cent up on the previous quarter.

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Living with chronic pain can be incredibly difficult and we are determined to improve services for all those affected.

“Today’s figures demonstrate the continued progress health boards and pain services have continued to make despite the ongoing challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, with an increase in the number of people seen for treatment at the beginning of this year compared to the end of 2020.”

The government will continue to work with health boards to implement the Recovery Framework for NHS pain management services that was published in September 2020, with the spokesperson adding: “chronic pain services remain a priority for the Scottish Government”.

He said: “This year we will publish a new framework for chronic pain service delivery which is intended to improve access to care for people with chronic pain and deliver better health outcomes.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary Annie Wells said: “While it is welcome that the picture for patients suffering with chronic pain is improving, too many are still waiting too long to be seen for vital procedures.

“As we continue to restart health services, SNP Ministers must ensure those patients who are lying in agony are seen as quickly as possible.

“The SNP Government are still routinely missing target waiting times to ensure chronic pain patients are seen within 18 weeks. We saw an unacceptable situation last year of patients travelling to England for procedures and that simply cannot happen again.

“We must see the SNP Health Secretary make tackling chronic pain a top priority over the coming weeks and months as part of our NHS recovery.”

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