The Australia Pain Society and Painaustralia hope that the long-awaited formation of the new Primary Health Networks (PHNs) will lead to improved access to pain services in primary care, as recommended in the National Pain Strategy.
Announcing the successful tenders to manage the PHNs last month, the Federal Minister for Health Sussan Ley said the PHNs are closely aligned with state Local Hospital Networks and so are able to ensure better integration between primary and acute care services.
All state governments and the Australian Capital Territory have now supported the recommendations of the National Pain Strategy and most have invested funds to enhance hospital-based pain services.
However, the vast majority of people with persisting or chronic pain are best managed in the community or at primary care level with a team led by a GP and ongoing support for self-care.
More effective assessment and management of pain in primary care will help prevent development of chronic pain and free up the specialist pain clinics in public hospitals to treat more complex patients.
Training in multidisciplinary team-based pain management has been identified as a key area of need in Painaustralia’s 2014 review of progress with the National Pain Strategy and is highlighted in a recent report from NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation, which evaluated progress with NSW State-wide pain plan.
Painaustralia is keen to demonstrate the benefits and cost savings that can be achieved through early assessment and intervention for people with pain and has proposed a trial to evaluate this once the PHNs are operational. The study would be conducted by a team led by Painaustralia Director and Chair of Health Economics at the University of Sydney, Professor Deborah Schofield, in collaboration with Professor Michael Nicholas at the Pain management Research Institute.
With many of the PHN managers being consortiums, there is an ideal opportunity for collaboration between general practice, allied health providers, private health providers and insurers along with some of the former Medical Locals.
In addition to general health, PHNs will have six key work priorities: mental health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, population health, health workforce, eHealth and aged care.
An improved focus on the management of acute, chronic and cancer pain management is vital in all these areas. A total of 31 new PHNs will replace 61 Medicare Locals (MLs), with the roll out beginning from 1 July 2015. Painaustralia looks forward to working with the new PHNs, to continue the work of Medicare Locals with regard to chronic pain programs and services, and in particular to contribute to the long-term health of our workforce.