The Australian Government launched its National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management this week. It is estimated that one in five Australians experience chronic pain, with the rate increasing to one in three adults over 65 years of age.
Chronic pain has a significant impact on a person’s ability to function at home and work, as well as social and emotional impacts. However, it is currently estimated that up to 80% of people living with chronic pain do not receive adequate therapy. This may be related to regional differences in the availability of pain clinics and physiotherapists, with most of these services concentrated in major capital cities. The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare theorise that these differences may be a factor in the considerable regional variation observed in the use of opioids. There is also a lack of general awareness of pain and optimal pain management strategies among both consumers and healthcare professionals. This is also thought to contribute to sub-optimal outcomes.
The Action Plan aims to address these barriers in order to improve access to care. The following eight goals form the basis of the plan:
- People living with pain are recognised as a national and public health priority;
- Consumers, their carers and the wider community are more empowered, knowledgeable and supported to understand and manage pain;
- Health practitioners are well-informed and skilled on best practice evidence-based care and are supported to deliver this care;
- People living with pain have timely access to consumer-centred best-practice pain management, including self-management, early intervention strategies and interdisciplinary care and support;
- Outcomes in pain management are improved and evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure consumer-centred pain services are provided that are best practice and keep pace with innovation;
- Knowledge of pain flourishes and is communicated to health practitioners and consumers through a national research strategy;
- Chronic pain is minimised through prevention and early intervention strategies; and
- People living with pain are supported to participate in work and community.
Achieving the objectives of the plan requires strong partnerships between government, healthcare professionals, primary health networks, and consumers. There are many actions that healthcare professionals can take to support these goals, including:
- Educating patients and their carers about chronic pain with the support of reliable resources;
- Referral to other healthcare professionals to address specific needs;
- Physiotherapist for patients with deconditioning
- Psychologist for patients experiencing pain that is associated with negative mood and behaviours
- Multidisciplinary pain services for the management of complex cases
- Online pain management programs (e.g. This Way Up, MindSpot) may be appropriate for some patients who are unable to access traditional pain management services
- Use of strategies to prevent the transition of acute pain to chronic pain, e.g. therapeutic exercise, adequate acute pain management with regular review;
- Educating patients and their carers about their medications, e.g. through the use of approved consumer medicine information documents; and
- Encouraging healthy habits such as improved diet, limited alcohol intake, and smoking cessation.
This new Action Plan will build upon the 2010 National Pain Strategy, which has already affected major change in the way pain is understood and managed in Australia. The National Pain Strategy has contributed to the establishment of new pain clinics in regional areas, dedicated paediatric pain clinics, specialist paediatric telehealth services, and a range of educational materials for healthcare professionals and people living with pain. It is hoped that this progress will continue to improve the quality of life for people affected by chronic pain.
The complete Action Plan is available for download from the Department of Health.
- Department of Health. National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management. Canberra: Australian Government; 2021.
- Martucci K. Preventing Pain: An Introduction. Washington: International Association for the Study of Pain; 2020.
- National Pain Summit Initiative. National Pain Strategy. Pain Australia; 2010.
- Pain and Analgesia Expert Group. Therapeutic Guidelines: Pain and Analgesia. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines; 2020.