A first of its kind meeting to manage chronic pain will be held in Melbourne where an unprecedented gathering of some of Australia's leading authorities in pain medicine, together with consumer groups representing chronic pain sufferers will be present.
The meeting has been called in recognition of the fact that one in five Australians will suffer chronic pain in their lifetime and up to 80% of people currently living with chronic pain are missing out on treatment that could improve their health and quality of life.
The MBF Foundation's landmark report, The High Price of Pain, originally highlighted chronic pain's enormous economic and personal burden and its recommendation for a national pain strategy has led to today's meeting, which is being hosted by the Faculty of Pain Medicine at the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) with the Australian Pain Society and Chronic Pain Australia.
Professor Michael Cousins, Chair of the steering committee for the meeting and Director of the Pain Management Research Institute (PMRI), said chronic pain should be considered a disease in its own right and a national health priority.
"Everyone fears severe pain," explains Professor Cousins, "Unfortunately, most of us will face some type of severe pain during our lifetime and yet in 2009 an apparently simple problem such as the management of "acute pain" - for example, after surgery or trauma - is still only effectively managed in half of all patients, despite availability of knowledge and techniques to provide effective treatment in 90% of patients.
Professor Cousins added that chronic pain associated with cancer is also not treated effectively. However, by far the worst predicament is faced by people with chronic non-cancer pain, where less than 10% gain access to effective treatments.
According to the findings of The High Price of Pain report, which was conducted by Access Economics using PMRI epidemiological data and economic modelling, chronic pain costs the Australian economy over $34.3 billion per annum, or $10,847 per person affected.
The report also found that more than 36.5 million working days were lost each year due to chronic pain, costing the economy and employers $11.7 billion annually in productivity losses.
Dr Christine Bennett, Chair of the MBF Foundation steering committee and Bupa Australia Chief Medical Officer said : "The scale, impact and cost of chronic pain is so alarming that it calls for a national approach to address this major health issue, Australia's third largest health expenditure by disease, ranking only after cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal conditions.
"There are enormous potential cost savings for Federal and State Governments, possibly as much as half of all costs currently being borne, by giving people access to timely and effective treatment."
Dr Bennett added that it was the compelling facts from The High Price of Pain report that provided the impetus for the meeting today ahead of a National Pain Summit proposed for March 2010.
"The Summit will bring together an unprecedented range of primary, secondary and tertiary health care professionals, patients, carers and consumers representing over 200 stakeholder organisations," she said.
Dr Penelope Briscoe, Dean of the Faculty of Pain Medicine at ANZCA said: "As the body responsible for training, education and professional standards of pain medicine, we would urge governments to make pain management a major health priority in terms of health planning and funding. The Summit is an important step in increasing awareness of this serious health issue and providing potential solutions so that the community has access to the best treatment possible."
Professor Stephen Gibson, President of the Australian Pain Society said: "A national strategy to deal with the tragic impacts of chronic pain is long overdue. Many persons with chronic pain suffer from severe depression, disability and social isolation. Best treatment often requires a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach with attention to the entire person and not just the pain."
Coralie Wales, President of consumer group, Chronic Pain Australia added: "The value of the National Pain Summit is immeasurable because it will really bring home the message to the Government and the wider Australian community that people living with chronic pain are suffering in silence and isolation."