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One-third of people in England have chronic pain and need ‘holistic and comprehensive’ care, report finds

By Allie Anderson
Freelance journalist

28 Jun 2021

People with chronic pain should be offered an assessment in primary care and a personalised care and support plan, according to a new report on the impact of living with long-term pain.  

The report, published today by charity Versus Arthritis, found that 15.5 million people in England – almost one-third of the population – have chronic pain.  

These patients should have access to a ‘holistic assessment of their symptoms’, which should include a review of the effects living with chronic pain has on their physical and mental health, their well-being, and their ability to work and go about their day-to-day lives. 

Assessments should also examine any underlying causes of pain and other contributing factors, according to the report – Unseen, Unequal and Unfair: Chronic Pain in England.  

In addition, the 5.5 million people who have ‘high-impact’ chronic pain – pain that affects their ability to take part in everyday activities – should be offered the opportunity to create a personalised care and support plan that focuses on their goals and the support they need to achieve them.  

This comes two months after the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued its first-ever guidelines on managing chronic pain. 

It advised GPs that they should not initiate treatment with drugs like opioids and gabapentinoids for people with chronic primary pain – where there is no obvious cause of the pain or where the pain and its impact is disproportionate to any known cause. 

Alternatives like certain antidepressants, exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy or acupuncture should be considered instead, NICE’s guidance said.  

Ahead of NICE’s launch of the draft version of its guidance, experts warned that the move away from prescribed analgesia would lead to a rise in sales of OTC codeine, potentially triggering misuse and an over-reliance on the medicine.    

In the foreword to Versus Arthritis’s report, Victoria Tzortziou Brown, joint honorary secretary of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: ‘Healthcare professionals [need] sufficient time to discuss patients’ chronic pain with them in a holistic way, supporting them to identify tailored solutions that work for them, rather than just prescribed medications.’ 

The report also found that chronic pain disproportionately affects different patient cohorts and demographics. For example: 

  • People with chronic pain are more likely to live in deprived areas.  
  • Women are affected more than men across all age groups. 
  • People from some minority ethnic groups are more likely to have chronic pain. 

Releasing its report, Versus Arthritis said: ‘We need to re-think how we support people with chronic pain through a far-reaching holistic and comprehensive approach.  

‘This report calls on the leaders of local health and care services and public health to identify every person with high-impact pain and offer the support they need to live well; reduce the health inequalities that worsen chronic pain for the most deprived, for women, and certain minority ethnic groups; and implement plans to address chronic pain, and regularly report on progress.’ 

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