The number of patients waiting a year or more to see a specialist for chronic pain has almost trebled over the last year, new figures showed.
At the end of March 2021 there were 165 people who had been waiting 52 weeks or more for an appointment – up from 57 at the same point in 2020.
But with the number waiting a year or longer for their first appointment down from 233 at the end of December, the Scottish Government said “continued progress” was being made.
Patients are classed as being in chronic pain if they have been suffering for 12 weeks or more, despite treatment or medication.
In the first three months of this year, data from Public Health Scotland showed 3,884 people were referred to a chronic pain clinic – broadly the same as the previous quarter.
However, the number of referrals remains lower than it was in the year prior to the coronavirus pandemic – when on average there were 5,200 referrals each quarter.
Meanwhile, a total of 2,344 patients were seen at a chronic pain clinic in the period January to March 2021.
And although this is up 11.2% from the previous quarter, when 2,108 patients were seen, it is less than it was prior to the pandemic, when an average of 3,000 patients were seen every three months.
By the end of March this year, Public Health Scotland found there were 2,340 patients waiting for their first appointment at a chronic pain clinic, down from 3,334 at the end of December – a drop of 29.8%.
Public Health Scotland said the fall was partly because fewer patients were being referred, and also in part because NHS boards have started offering patients alternatives to waiting to be seen by a consultant.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Living with chronic pain can be incredibly difficult and we are determined to improve services for all those affected.
“Today’s figures demonstrate the continued progress health boards and pain services have continued to make despite the ongoing challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, with an increase in the number of people seen for treatment at the beginning of this year compared to the end of 2020.”
The Government will continue to work with health boards to implement the Recovery Framework for NHS pain management services that was published in September 2020, with the spokesman stressing that “chronic pain services remain a priority for the Scottish Government”.
He stated: “This year we will publish a new framework for chronic pain service delivery which is intended to improve access to care for people with chronic pain and deliver better health outcomes.”
Scottish Conservative health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “While it is welcome that the picture for patients suffering with chronic pain is improving, too many are still waiting too long to be seen for vital procedures.
“As we continue to restart health services, SNP ministers must ensure those patients who are lying in agony are seen as quickly as possible.
“The SNP government are still routinely missing target waiting times to ensure chronic pain patients are seen within 18 weeks. We saw an unacceptable situation last year of patients travelling to England for procedures and that simply cannot happen again.
“We must see the SNP Health Secretary make tackling chronic pain a top priority over the coming weeks and months as part of our NHS recovery.”
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