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People in chronic pain are being left in ‘agony’ as they wait weeks to be seen for the first time, a Highlands and Islands MSP has claimed.
Donald Cameron, shadow health spokesperson, spoke out following the publication by Public Health Scotland (PHS) of chronic pain waiting time figures for the two quarters up to the end of March and to the end of June.
Mr Cameron said waiting times have fallen behind the SNP’s target of people being seen within 18 weeks to their highest percentage in five years.
A total of 1,501 new patients were referred to a chronic pain clinic up to the end of June. This compared to 4,972 in the same quarter in 2019, or a 69.8 per cent fall in referrals.
In the same quarter, 547 patients were seen at a chronic pain clinic compared to 2,741 over the same period in 2019 – a fall of 80 per cent in people being seen.
Those waiting longer than 18 weeks for a first appointment for chronic pain also rose to 52.9 per cent. That compared to June 2019 when it was just 15.4 per cent and December 2019 when it was 23 per cent.
Chronic pain is that which lasts longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment.
Mr Cameron said: ‘While it was understandable the number of patients being seen dropped during the height of the pandemic, cabinet secretary for health Jeane Freeman must urgently outline a plan as to how patients waiting for vital operations will be treated as quickly as possible.
‘We have seen unacceptable situations of patients from Scotland having to travel to England for treatment and that cannot be allowed to continue.’
Public Health Scotland has pointed out the ‘majority’ of chronic pain services were temporarily paused from March due to the pandemic. That saw clinicians redeployed before services started to resume in June, it said.
The Scottish Government too said it appreciated how ‘difficult’ the last few months had been for patients in chronic pain. It said it remained ‘committed’ to resuming the full range of pain services ‘as quickly as it safe to do so’.
And it pointed out some ’emergency and urgent care’ had still been provided for those in chronic pain, despite the impact of the pandemic.
This included treatment for emergency and acute presentations, infusion pumps for palliative care and treatment for complex regional pain syndrome, it said.
It added: ‘Health boards have also offered virtual or telephone consultations to help people with pain management.
‘Nationally, we have produced tailored advice and guidance to help people self-manage their condition and access local and online support services.’
Mr Cameron added: ‘I appreciate the huge efforts made by dedicated NHS staff to mitigate the impact of the loss of the service through advice and, in some instances, emergency interventions.
‘However, I know from representations made to me directly by patients and family members, how much suffering some people have had to bear.’
The government said it plans to publish a ‘Covid-19 recovery framework’ for NHS pain management services to plot the way forward.
It also plans to develop the current Scottish Service Model for Chronic Pain and publish a new Framework for Chronic Pain Service Delivery in 2021 in light of the pandemic.