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Living with chronic pain

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Serious injury solicitor Alice Hall shares an insight from Lou, founder of Northamptonshire Chronic Pain Support.

Within my role as a serious injury solicitor, I often support clients who experience chronic pain after trauma and I have seen the devastating effect that can have on the life of a sufferer.

I have also seen the importance of early and specialist professional input, and that, without this, the significant risk that people’s physical and mental health can quickly spiral downwards.

But, what does it actually mean to live with chronic pain and what support is there available to sufferers?

I spoke with Lou, the founder of Northamptonshire Chronic Pain Support (NCPS) and someone living with chronic pain.

NCPS was launched in January 2018 with the main objectives of empowering those affected by chronic pain, offering support and guidance to those affected, education, and a space for sufferers to talk in a safe, positive and non-judgemental environment.

Since then, the group has been working hard to support people affected by chronic pain in various ways, including weekly group meetings, social media support and, more recently during lockdown, virtual meetings and events.

Lou’s own experience of chronic pain began following an accident at work in 2012. She has since been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and arthritis.

I spoke with Lou about her own experience with chronic pain and her plans for NCPS.Lou’s storyFrom the beginning…

“Before my accident, I was very independent. I worked full-time in a physical job, had a busy and active social life and had lots of plans with my partner. Sadly, everything changed in the blink of an eye when I suffered an accident at work and life has never been the same since.

“It was eventually discovered that I had suffered an injury to my back. At the time, the risks of surgery were deemed too great and I was advised against that route I felt left with very few options other than to rely on incredibly powerful opiate medication and I began to slip into a very dark and lonely hole.

“I had lost my job, friends and any sort of quality of life I had known it previously. I felt like I had lost control of everything in my life and it had been completely consumed by chronic pain. It got to the point that I felt suicidal and I just couldn’t see any point in carrying on.

“Seeking help and support…I was eventually referred to a chronic pain course by my GP and, although things got off to a bit of a rocky start, at the end of the course I felt, for the first time, like there was hope. I had spent time with people just like me, living with pain, but carrying on with life as best they could. It showed me a different perspective and, from there, gradually things started to improve.

“I managed to return to work, albeit part-time and in a different job. Unfortunately, things took another turn in 2016. I was then deemed an appropriate candidate for surgery, but it was unfortunately unsuccessful and actually left me in an even worse off position. I had some counselling, but felt like I didn’t really get anywhere.

“By chance, I discovered a charity called A Way With Pain that was holding meetings in my local area in the summer of 2016.

“I went to my first meeting and felt like it was a step in the right direction. NCPS…In October 2016 I decided that, in helping myself, I wanted to be able to help others, like me, who felt that they had lost everything to chronic pain.

“I could see just how much the support of sitting and talking with others who were going through similar experiences to you was comforting. I began studying and obtained a Level 2 in Listening Skills in June 2017 awarded by the Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body.

“I continued to grow the support groups and NCPS was founded. Since the early days when there was just a handful of people attending meetings, we have grown and grown and now support a large group of people across the Northamptonshire area.

“We have also set up a Facebook group and Twitter page, which is another forum to provide support to our service users and this has been particularly vital during the lockdown. We have also had to move our face-to-face meetings to Zoom meetings.

“The future for NCPS…As someone living with chronic pain, I know all too well just how difficult it is to find the right, or any, support at times and being able to help and support others is something that I am keen to continue. In the short term, we hope to continue using technology to support our service users, both via online meetings and events, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

“I hope that our presence will continue to grow and we will be able to reach even more people who need our help and support.”

From my experience, it is fair to say that cases involving those who suffer with a chronic pain condition – whether it be fibromyalgia, somatic symptom disorder, or any other – can be complex and the importance of specialist pain management evidence cannot be understated.

Thought must also be given to what, if any, other expert evidence should be knitted together alongside pain management evidence – orthopaedic, psychiatric, physiotherapy, care, and occupational therapy.

Indeed, these cases often require a multi-disciplinary team approach when it comes to expert evidence due to the nature of many pain conditions and the multifaceted, physiological and psychiatric components.

Equally, and particularly given the often difficult experiences of Claimants in trying to access pain management support and treatment via the NHS, experts in the litigation must be encouraged to provide detailed recommendations for any treatment, and costings of the same, with interim payments proactively being sought where appropriate so that Claimants are given the opportunity to access rehabilitation on a private basis where this is necessary.

Further thought should also be given to the importance of detailed witness evidence in cases involving chronic pain. Not only should detailed statements be taken from the Claimant, but also from their family, friends, and case manager where appropriate.

Whilst in many ways the concept of chronic pain is much more widely understood and accepted than it once was, more can still be done so that parties to litigation do not underestimate the impact of chronic pain and needs of the Claimant.

Indeed, chronic pain can by its very nature be invisible, variable and often unpredictable and that can cause potentially significant evidential issues at a critical point in the litigation later down the line if those points are not addressed proactively in detail via witness evidence at the outset.

For Claimants suffering with chronic pain, early access to specialist rehabilitation and support is essential and will enable an injured Claimant to restore their life to the best possible position, and to maximise their future potential too, whether that be in terms of returning to employment, engaging in pre-injury hobbies or considering voluntary work.

Chronic pain is a very individual condition and no one person’s experience will be the same as the next, and so of course rehabilitation must be tailored appropriately and sensitively to every individual’s needs and wishes.

Injured people must be supported to explore all options that they wish, including, for example, holistic approaches alongside more traditional treatments and therapies if appropriate, as guided by expert evidence.

You can find our further information about Northamptonshire Chronic Pain Support (NCPS) at: https://www.ncpsuk.com/

Alice Hall is a serious injury solicitor at Irwin Mitchell.

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