Chronic pain patients to receive better care, pledges health minister Alex Neil

Patients with chronic pain in Scotland will receive improved specialist care, Health Secretary Alex Neil has pledged.

People who are most afflicted currently travel more than 400 miles to a centre in Somerset for treatment.

Mr Neil said he would consult on setting up a residential service to help the estimated 700,000 Scots who suffer from chronic pain.

The minister made his promise ahead of a Holyrood debate on the issue.

Chronic pain is often attached to other conditions, such as arthritis, cancer, back pain or MS, which means it is often left to those specialist departments rather than having a service dedicated to the pain itself.

About 20 people a year are sent to Bath in Somerset where they are treated at a specialist unit. The annual cost of providing the treatment is about £250,000.

Campaigners want Scotland to have its own residential centre for chronic pain, along with better day services.

Mr Neil told MSPs that health boards had now been tasked with creating action plans to improve the services available locally, such as in pain-management.

The minister also outlined plans to establish a specialist intensive pain management residential service and increase access to therapies for people in Scotland.

It was confirmed that a public consultation would be held in the summer to seek patients' views on how he residential service should be delivered.

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Media captionAlex Neil: "It may not be one clinic, but certainly it will be a specialist pain service which will be what Bath does for people in Scotland so they do not need to go to Bath."

In an address to parliament, Mr Neil said: "The Scottish government is committed to providing the best possible care for people with chronic pain.

"That is why I called this debate to discuss this important issue and our plans to improve services for Scottish patients - and that means treating patients as close to home as possible every time.

"We expect all health boards to have an action plan in place by the end of this year to improve local services and deliver faster access to the therapies that can help people to manage their pain and improve their quality of life.

"There will always be a small number of people who require more intensive pain management as often their pain cannot be cured. The creation of a Scottish residential service will ensure that those few patients will no longer need to travel outside Scotland to access specialist support.

"By holding a consultation we will listen to patients about how they feel a specialist service can be best delivered."

When the issue of chronic pain was raised at Holyrood back in 2002, so many people responded with pleas for help that the parliament website almost crashed.

Campaigners say that services have improved little since then.

'Gruelling journeys'

A spokeswoman for the Chronic Pain Cross Party Group said: "Unlike even Wales, Scotland still doesn't have an inpatient service for the most severely affected minority out of a multitude.

"The majority of sufferers are adults but Scotland has around 70,000 children who also suffer from chronic pain. A few children and juveniles have also been sent on these gruelling journeys.

"At present, access to day clinics is often condemned as a postcode lottery, dependent on where you live. They're short of staff and funding, coping with an epidemic of long-term pain, increasing due to the age timebomb.

"Only four out of Scotland's 14 health boards supply a budget for chronic pain treatment."

The cross-party group was set up at Holyrood in 2001, and while it says minor improvements have been made, major issues are yet to be addressed.

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