Counting the cost of chronic pain

The introduction of improved services for people in the early stages of chronic pain could help cut the “sizeable” economic burden caused by the condition - an estimated €4.76 billion per year - in Ireland, a leading Galway based expert said this week.

Dr Brian McGuire, the chief investigator of a major study on the prevalence, impact and cost of chronic pain in Ireland, called the PRIME study, says such improved services could reduce the long-term use of health services and increase the likelihood of people getting back to paid work.

Dr McGuire, a clinical psychologist at the pain clinic at University Hospital Galway and a lecturer in clinical psychology at the centre for pain research at NUI Galway, suggests this could reduce the sizeable economic burden of chronic pain, [classified as pain which lasts longer than three months] a significant health problem affecting up to one in three people in this country. The Irish research is consistent with data from other countries showing that chronic pain ranks as one of the most costly health conditions.

The new research - carried out by researchers at NUI Galway’s school of psychology and centre for pain research who joined forces with health economists at Trinity College Dublin - shows chronic pain costs up to 2.5 per cent of the gross domestic product in 2008.

As part of the HRB and HSE funded PRIME Study (Prevalence, Impact and Cost of Chronic Non-Cancer Pain in Ireland ), the researchers carried out in-depth interviews with chronic pain patients to find out about direct costs, such as medical treatments, and indirect costs such as lost work productivity.

Research psychologist at NUI Galway, Miriam Raftery, says the average cost per chronic pain patient was €5,665 per year across all grades of pain severity.

However, the annual costs increased according to the severity of pain rising to €10,454 per patient for those with the highest level of pain and disability.

A relatively small proportion of patients with the most severe level of pain accounted for a disproportionately large portion of the costs. Inpatient hospital treatment accounted for the highest proportion of overall costs.

Professor of health policy and management, Charles Normand and research assistant, Padhraig Ryan of the Centre for Health Policy and Management at Trinity College, explained that based on a 36 per cent prevalence of chronic pain in Ireland, the total cost of chronic pain for all individuals aged 20 and above was estimated at €4.76 billion per year or 2.55 per cent of Irish GDP in 2008.

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