Indigenous Australians living in remote regions of our vast country suffer pain to at least the same extent as the coastal fringe, urban dwelling population, however they have extreme difficulties accessing mainstream services. Frontline health care is provided by aboriginal health practitioners living in these communities where up to date pain management education has been difficult to provide.
On Thursday December 19 a group of aboriginal health practitioners from as far away as Elliot (halfway up the track to Darwin) and other communities in Central Australia gathered at Alice Springs Hospital with a team of pain experts to undertake the “Essential Pain Management” (EPM) one day workshop and to commence improving their skills in contributing to better pain management.
Dr Jacob Koshy, Director of Anaesthesia Alice Springs Hospital (ASH) and Margot Webster, Territory Integrated Pain Service physiotherapist, ASH, coordinated the meeting with the strong support of Louise Dennis, Aboriginal Health Practitioner Coordinator Central Australian Remote Health Services. Dr Roger Goucke from Perth provided his extensive experience from running this workshop in Fiji, PNG, India, Myanmar and many other Asian countries; further input was provided by Dr Rod Mitchell (ANZCA board member) and Dr Tim Semple (Australian Pain Society and Painaustralia) who travelled up from Adelaide for the event.
The workshop was enthusiastically received by the attendees and covered the essentials of acute, cancer and chronic non-cancer pain. During the day a session on “barriers” to sustainable pain management in isolated communities was held. This session identified issues such as lack of training, workforce and career pathways, the high tolerance of older patients to pain (despite decreased function), communication despite language differences and deafness, polypharmacy, drug compliance, and the use of non-drug treatments. Feedback was very positive and further workshops are anticipated. Ideally aboriginal health practitioner educators can attend a future EPM “train the trainer” four hour course and then run their own EPM programs.
The participants and instructors would like to acknowledge: the Northern Territory Health Department for supporting the AHPs to attend the workshop, the Alice Springs private practice fund for funding refreshments, and ANZCA for travel and accommodation support.