Page last updated at 01:52 GMT, Friday, 14 November 2008

NHS 'should get tough over pain'

Help The Aged says many people have to deal with pain on their own

People want to see tougher action taken against the NHS when it fails to help patients in pain, a poll suggests.

A Help the Aged survey of more than 1,000 people found nearly two-thirds thought hospitals should be penalised for poor "pain management".

The charity said the issue needed to be made a key priority like MRSA and waiting times - instead of being seen as doctors as inevitable in old age.

It said non-compliance with guidelines should affect ratings and funding.

And it also called for pain management to become more of a priority across the rest of the NHS, including in GP care.

Pain is not an inevitable part of growing older
Paul Cann, of Help the Aged

NHS trusts are measured against a series of core standards and national targets, several of which focus on hospital infections and waiting times.

None of these is directly linked to pain management and Help the Aged said this was wrong.

The only way NHS trusts end up judged on pain is indirectly through general patient surveys.

But the charity said this meant there was not a strong enough link between poor performance and overall rating.

Quality of life

The poll found 62% of people wanted penalties, while over half felt health professionals dismissed pain as part-and-parcel of old age.

The charity said older people were being left to deal with pain on their own in a range of circumstances from post-surgery to living with conditions such as arthritis.

Paul Cann, director of policy at Help the Aged, said: "Pain is not an inevitable part of growing older.

"It must not be tolerated, either by older people themselves or those responsible for their care.

"Pain is exhausting - it undermines dignity, changes personality and drastically reduces quality of life."

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "It is unacceptable that more than half the people polled felt that health professionals dismiss pain in older people as "old age".

"Pain, like dementia, is not a natural part of ageing. The poll demonstrates a need for clear guidelines and regulations to ensure people in pain are cared for appropriately regardless of other factors including age.

"Pain management for people with dementia is particularly problematic as it is not always possible for a person with dementia to communicate when they are in pain.

"Specialist training is vital for all people caring for those in pain to minimise suffering and improve quality of life."

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