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Sufferers of chronic pain can wait years for respite

Sufferers of chronic pain are having to wait two years to access some specialist services, a new report has revealed.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) found people in the NHS Borders area had to wait 78 weeks to 104 weeks to access specialist pain psychology services.

Across Scotland, people had to wait an average of 30.2 weeks.

Patients had to wait an average of 10 weeks to get specialist treatment from a chronic pain management service, the report stated.

But this varied from just one week in the Western Isles to 31 weeks in the NHS Grampian area.

The report found that "chronic pain services varied considerably across the country and particularly so in relation to ease of access, type of and scope of service".

It added that "in many parts of the country there are considerable improvements to be made".

As the report was published, Health Secretary Alex Neil said "more work needs to be done" to help those suffering from chronic pain - classed as pain that has been present for more than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment.

The site for a new national centre to treat sufferers should be announced "as soon as possible", Mr Neil said. The Scottish Government has pledged to set up a specialist residential service to aid sufferers.

At present some 20 to 30 Scots a year have to make the gruelling journey to a specialist centre in Bath for treatment due to the absence of such a centre.

About 800,000 people in Scotland are affected by chronic pain, with an estimated 223,000 experiencing severe chronic pain.

It is estimated about 100 patients a year will be referred to the new centre.

More than three quarters of those who responded to a consultation on the issue backed the establishment of a new residential clinic north of the border to treat sufferers from across the country. Health boards have until the end of this month to state if they want this to be based in their region, and the location of the new centre is expected to be announced at the end of next month.

Mr Neil said chronic pain could be a "debilitating condition", but added if it is managed well patients "can continue to lead fulfilling lives". The Scottish Government has invested £1.3 million improving services and set up both a national steering group for chronic pain and a support group to help share best practice.

Eight health boards have established outpatient pain management programmes, with three health boards developing similar services.

Mr Neil said: "I'm proud of the progress we've made so far. More work needs to be done, but measures like the new national steering group, pain management programmes across more boards and the national service model will all drive up standards, cut waiting times and deliver a better level of service across Scotland."

He said the consultation would be "invaluable in helping us to further improve services for chronic pain, and for pinpointing where difficulties lie".

Mr Neil added: "There is considerable support for a national centre of excellence to be based here in Scotland, so that patients no longer have to travel hundreds of miles."

In its response to the consultation, the Scottish Government stressed the residential unit would not be "an alternative or substitute for the provision of the locally delivered chronic pain primary and secondary care services".

The report added: "We recognise that there is much to be done but that with the range of activity under way and planned at local and national levels, change will start to be seen quickly and more patients will experience the highest quality of care."

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