Health cutbacks pain to continue

THE future of the chronic pain clinic at Lismore Base Hospital is under a cloud as the North Coast Area Health Service continues to look for ways to cut expenditure.

Area health service chief executive Chris Crawford confirmed the unit was under review, adding that a final decision would not be made until the end of the month.

“There has been a fair bit of looking at this service for some time,” he said.

“Relative to the number of staff in the clinic we don’t see a lot of patients, so it doesn’t appear to be a very productive service.

“It could be better as an outreach service.”

News of the possible closure of the multi-disciplinary unit that employs 6.5 full-time equivalent staff comes after revelations in The Northern Star yesterday that Lismore Base Hospital could lose its chaplain service.

North Coast Area Health has been told by the State Government to find annual savings of about $30 million.

In an open letter to staff the pain clinic’s medical director, Frank Walker, warned of the impact of the unit’s closure.

“We would be looking at a situation resulting in unacceptable ongoing suffering imposed upon a population of patients who are already suffering not only poorly-controlled pain, but often isolation, major anxiety, depression and severe financial strain,” he wrote.

The clinic has been operating for about six years and helps people live with constant pain.

It has a close working relationship with Royal North Shore Hospital’s pain clinic, ensuring it has up-to-date advice and care.

State Lismore MP Thomas George said yesterday he would be disgusted if the clinic was closed.

“The needs of people who are in pain in our community are being ignored for the sake of the budget needs of the NCAHS,” he said.

A 2007 report found chronic pain cost the community around $34 billion, which includes productivity costs and $7 billion attributed to health system costs.


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