Last week we submitted our submission to the National Preventive Health Strategy.
The Strategy, announced in June 2019 by Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, aims to help Australians improve their health at all stages of life and forms a part of Australia’s Long Term National Health Plan. It aims to improve Australians’ health through early intervention, better information and targeting risk factors and the broader causes of health and wellbeing. These goals align directly with improvements that need to be made for pain in Australia.
Our submission highlighted chronic pain as an important health priority that requires effective prevention and coordinated management. We outlined seven recommendations for the Strategy to ensure a strategic and national approach to the complex issue of pain in our community.
Preventing the onset of chronic pain is a tricky area. Many health conditions can play a contributory role in the development and maintenance of chronic pain. Older Australians especially can have more than one long-term health condition, so it can be difficult to isolate which conditions are associated with the most pain. And while injury and surgery are also leading contributors to chronic pain, a large number of pain cases have no known cause.
However, there are opportunities for prevention, community awareness and early intervention.
We know there is a window of opportunity when someone is experiencing acute pain from tissue healing (approximately one to two months) to apply appropriate diagnostic and treatment strategies. This could prevent the transition from acute to chronic pain.
This is a vital period and without best practice intervention, ideally multidisciplinary care, an injury can worsen and lead to adverse health outcomes. This can include an inappropriate reliance on medication to manage ongoing pain.
Improved access to best-practice pain management and adoption of multidisciplinary pain management as the primary treatment option for chronic pain and chronic illnesses provides the best chance for healthier outcomes.
The other key aspect of pain prevention is community awareness and improving access to quality information for both consumers and health professionals.
There are some entrenched beliefs about pain with complex interactions between cultural concepts of pain, pain relief and social behaviour. Health professionals need better access to training about the multidisciplinary approach to pain management and clearer clinical guidance support to deliver this care.
Consumers also need better access to information about injury, pain and treatment, particularly so they can seek the best practice pain management and take the lead in self-management strategies.
Both health practitioners and consumers need to understand that chronic pain may not be ‘fixed’, and treatment needs to be reframed as managing a chronic condition with coordinated care from a range of disciplines.
The final point we made in our submission was this: we must align the National Preventive Health Strategy to the National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management. As well as sharing common goals, both the Strategy and the Plan require a public health management approach and crucial government leadership for a whole-of-society response. It is vital that both are implemented in tandem so we can ensure sustained action on improving the health and wellbeing of millions of Australians.