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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 October 2006, 22:56 GMT 23:56 UK
Too many elderly 'left in pain'
Image of an elderly woman's hands
Some elderly patients with chronic pain contemplate suicide
Not enough is being done to improve the management of pain in the elderly, a charity says.

Nearly a third of the 3,000 carers surveyed by the Patients Association said their patient's chronic pain was poorly managed.

Two-thirds said their patients were less able to cope with everyday life because of the pain, and a fifth said their patients had talked of suicide.

Part of the problem is a lack of awareness among GPs, says the charity.

GPs need more education on managing pain
Katherine Murphy from The Patients Association

After consulting healthcare professionals, fewer than a third of the 2,426 carers, who were relatives or friends of the patients rather than professional carers like the other 533 also questioned, said it had helped with their patient's pain.

More than a third (39%) said that healthcare professionals never or only occasionally reviewed their patient's pain level.

Only 6% of the carers said the treatment offered was something other than pills and tablets.

Just over half said their patient's chronic pain was managed "adequately, but not very well".

Prioritise pain

Katherine Murphy from the Patients Association said: "The government must take the lead on this initiative as it is clear that older people's chronic pain is still being neglected.

"GPs need more education on managing pain and carers and the general public should have better access to the information available on pain management solutions."

Dr Graham Archard from the Royal College of General Practitioners said: "The figures do not surprise me. Other studies show an awful lot of people remain in pain.

"In this study, however, it is a very selective group of people - only those with persistent pain.

"Having said that, we can't just ignore it and it is not an excuse.

"The government needs to prioritise pain control. There is very little in the way of guidelines to help GPs to control pain properly.

"It's much more complicated than simply giving painkillers."

Holistic care

Dr David Bowsher of The Pain Relief Foundation said there was also a misconception by some that pain is something to be expected in old age.

He said non-drug treatments, including relaxation techniques, could help relieve pain.

"What we need is more community care. Patients don't necessarily need to be seen in pain clinics, but they ought to be assessed by staff from pain clinics," he added.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said: "Clearly, pain relief is an important part of managing long-term conditions.

"Our expert patient programme recognises this and aims to provide patients with the necessary skills to make a tangible impact on their condition and to improve quality of life more generally.

"The Expert Patient Programme has around 12,000 places at present and will be expanded to go up to 100,000 places by 2012."

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