Pain clinic in high demand: doctors

THE real number of patients using Lismore’s pain clinic are much higher than claimed last week by the North Coast Area Health Service and used to justify its review of the unit’s future.

Following reports in The Northern Star last week that it was considering the future of the pain management centre at Lismore Base Hospital, health service chief executive Chris Crawford said the unit was under-utilised, treating only 100 patients last year.

However, figures supplied to this newspaper reveal a different story.

Last year, the centre’s staff treated 146 new patients and conducted 1170 reviews, with each new consultation taking half-a-day.

The waiting list is even longer, with 250 people in chronic pain, some of them cancer patients, waiting to be admitted to the clinic.

“The limitation is clinic time, not scarcity of numbers needing the service,” one clinician, who asked not to be named, said.

“Many of these patients are under Workers’ Compensation cover, which is a financial gain for the health service.”

On today’s letters page, the medical director of the Multi-Disciplinary Pain Management Clinic (MPMC), Dr Frank Wagner, has taken the extraordinary step of publishing an open letter condemning the area health service for its lack of focus on patient care.

“With the closure of the MPMC and reduction of services to a nurse practitioner only, 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 writes.

Dr Wagner is currently overseas on holidays and could not be contacted for further comment.

However, others involved in the clinic told The Northern St ar that despite public claims by Mr Crawford that he was consulting with clinic staff, they say there has been no discussion.

“There was no consultation when he met with pain clinic staff – it was an ultimatum,” one said.

Area health could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

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