‘They often felt unheard, not believed and stigmatised when visiting their pharmacist.’

People with chronic pain have reported a significant worsening in their relationship with their pharmacist, according to the results of the National Pain Survey 2020

The results of the annual survey conducted by Chronic Pain Australia, which had more than 1200 participants from across the country, have been released to mark National Pain Week (27 July–2 August).

When asked to rate how people felt their pharmacist was managing their pain, the average score was 4/10.

When this same question was asked last year, the average score for pharmacists was 8/10, highlighting a significant 50% decrease in 2020.

The relationship between people living with chronic pain and their GP also declined from 8/10 in 2019 to 5/10 in 2020.

“What we are seeing in this year’s National Pain Survey regarding the relationship deterioration between people living with chronic pain and their GP and pharmacist is very concerning,” said President of Chronic Pain Australia Jarrod McMaugh, who is also a pharmacist.

“It easily demonstrates that healthcare professionals need to improve their approach towards how pain is managed in Australia and importantly, how people in pain are treated.”

People in pain reported in the survey that they often felt unheard, not believed and generally stigmatised when they visited their pharmacist.

Being suspected of being a drug seeker was very commonly reported and may have contributed to the poorer relationships between people in pain and pharmacists, said Chronic Pain Australia.

When asked what they thought was the most important thing a pharmacist should do when treating someone living with chronic pain, people said that they just wanted to be treated better, with kindness, compassion and less suspicion.

Some of the key themes to this question from survey respondents included:

“I am not a drug seeker”

“Don’t treat me with suspicion”

“Do not shame me for needing S8 drugs”

“Don’t discuss my medication needs in front of other customers”

“Don’t assume what I’m saying isn’t true or that the medication I have been prescribed is wrong for me”

“Understand what it’s like for me to live with chronic pain”

“Listen to me and my needs and take me seriously”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted how people in pain manage their conditions and how they interact with healthcare professionals.

“We also can’t underestimate the impact COVID-19 has had on people living with pain and health care professionals. We do note that our survey was open from 1-31 May which was an incredibly pivotal four-week period in Australia’s battle against COVID-19,” said Mr McMaugh.

“It is no surprise to us that the extra pressure and challenges the pandemic has brought with it would also put pressure on the relationships people in pain have with their pharmacist and GP, but it certainly isn’t the only contributing factor leading to the decline in the relationship between people in pain and healthcare professionals.”

More than half of the people surveyed (52%) reported that the way they manage their pain has changed during COVID-19 restrictions and many (69%) have utilised telehealth options during this time.

Meanwhile 41% of survey respondents reported having a disruption to accessing their medication over the last 12 months, with many saying that often their medication was not available or made available to them at their local pharmacy.

Mr McMaugh said the results of this year’s survey should be an opportunity to improve the relationship between people living with pain and health care professionals, thereby improving how pain is managed in Australia.

He added pharmacists along with allied health professionals were essential in managing pain correctly, and the survey results should not be used to demonise healthcare professionals who work with people living with chronic pain.

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