A CLINICAL specialist has branded the pain management practices of NHS Lothian “unacceptable” after a survey revealed patients spent half their time in pain.
Of the adult inpatients questioned after their hospital stay by NHS Lothian, 15 per cent reported being in pain “all or most of the time” while nearly two-thirds described pain as “moderate to severe”.
In a separate survey, just under a third of day case patients reported moderate or severe pain.
Professor Morag Prowse, an academic and a registered nurse who has held previous senior posts in the NHS as a clinical nurse specialist in anaesthesia/pain management, said the survey findings were “unacceptable”.
“I have heard about inadequate pain management for some time,” she said. “Patients are going home in pain.”
And Dr Charles Winstanley, chairman of NHS Lothian, admitted that the figures were “disappointing”.
The inpatient data was gathered from 885 patients across 59 wards at NHS Lothian hospitals between August last year and January as they were discharged, with data made available to staff within weeks.
Margaret Watt, chairperson of the Scotland Patients Association, said she received regular complaints of inadequate pain management and feared pressure on staff was to blame.
“We’ve heard of a lot of patients in excruciating pain being told staff haven’t got time and will give them pain relief in a minute – then that minute never comes,” she said.
“Only the individual can tell how much they hurt. Staff shouldn’t perceive that people are not in pain or it’s just mild pain – they should have to take the word of the patient.”
Ms Watt said she suspected nurses did not have time to speak with patients, who could often be left to suffer in silence.
“The pressure on staff is unbelievable,” she said. “They don’t have time for niceties – they’ve gone out of the door.”
One ERI patient said that pain management was “non-existent”, while the standard of food was also criticised. An ERI patient said she received “excellent care” but her food was “burnt, cold and inedible”.
There was better news for the health board in other areas, with ratings of more than 90 per cent for room, ward and toilet cleanliness and 92 per cent on confidence and trust in its doctors and nurses. Overall, 98 per cent of inpatients and 99 per cent of day surgery patients rated their care excellent, very good or good.
Nurse director Melanie Hornett said: “NHS Lothian believes that patients in 2012 should not have to suffer pain that can be avoided. While recent reviews show advances have been made through the use of traditional medicine and other approaches such as massage, we recognise that further improvements can be made.
“Most patients understand there may be a level of discomfort as part of their treatment, particularly those with long-term conditions or terminal disease. The experience of pain is individual and as such the management must be tailored to each patient’s needs. We have dedicated pain management staff who provide specialist advice and are committed to looking at ways of further improving our service.”