A time to celebrate. There are a few seminal moments that are significant in the history of championing a cause. In the past 10 years in the pain management area in Australia, one was the work of the founding members of Painaustralia to set up the organisation. After a lot of battles hard fought and won and with the help of all those who work to support consumers living with chronic pain as well as consumers themselves – 18 May 2021 is another.
The Action Plan was developed by Painaustralia in consultation with 25 national organisations and countless individuals and consumers groups, as well as State and Territory Departments of Health. It represents a critical step towards improving the quality of life for the millions of Australians who live with chronic pain and every day face the challenges of accessing affordable and pain treatment.
The final document launched this week closely reflects the 2019 version of the Action Plan, however there are some important changes including the additional action that the Electronic Persistent Pain Outcomes Collaboration (ePPOC) collects data on paediatric specialist pain services to inform the development of such education programs.
Another new action is the exploration of the development of “transitional pain clinics” in public and private hospitals which would involve engagement of acute/hospital-based services and community care. This would enable early identification and intervention and prevention for consumers experiencing acute pain that are at high risk of transitioning from acute pain to chronic pain.
I’ve worked in the health system for nearly three decades. During that time, I’ve seen the tides and appetites of governments wax and wane. I’ve seen issues go unaddressed and then suddenly catch a gust of interest that pushes them onto the map.
As many of you know, serious health system reform can often take a decade, even when the focus of reform is clearly defined. Considering that chronic pain was a largely invisible condition in the health policy field 10 years ago, the pace of change is relatively quick.
In marvelling at this momentous achievement, it’s important to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the foundation laid by Painaustralia’s founding members, The Australian College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA), ANZCA Faculty of Pain Medicine, the Pain Foundation and the Australian Pain Society. Together with our broader membership working to reduce the impact of pain, their efforts in getting pain on the national agenda has been critical in getting us to where we are today.
Now, as Professor Ian Chubb said at the announcement this week, ‘is when the work begins’. The beginning is over. Implementing the Plan’s 50 practical actions will not be an easy task and it will take a national effort and funding investment to achieve.
So the question now is how to move forward and translate the Action Plan into sustainable change?
The Action Plan contains 8 priority areas for action, with a large number of practical solutions to help and support those living with chronic pain. In Minister Hunt’s media release, he noted that the Action Plan outlines “the importance of educating Australians on understanding and managing pain, as well as providing a framework for health practitioners on how to deliver the best treatment and care to patients.”
A community awareness campaign about chronic pain and evidence-based management to assist those seeking pain treatment options is something that Painaustralia has consistently called for over many years. The launch of our upgraded National Pain Services Directory as well as the development of our website into an information hub will go some way towards this goal but we need to do a lot more to take the invisibility cloak off chronic pain.
We also need to hear the voices from those with lived experience. As Painaustralia’s pain champion, Tara Moss said at our Parliamentary Friends meeting, ‘Listen to chronic pain patients and their experiences and needs. Greater understanding is the road to better care’.
We’ll be writing to each State and Territory Health Minister to thank them for their support in endorsing the Action Plan and working with our members to map out the next steps towards translating the words into a better reality for the 3.4 million Australians living with chronic pain.
The launch of the National Action Plan has drawn a line in the sand. We can never go back. It is a time to acknowledge the persistence, patience and passion that have brought us to the end of the beginning. But not for long.
We now have a starting line and we will need all our energy and the support of many people across Australia if we are to energise the Plan and change the way people with pain are treated in Australia.