With services at Calvary's proposed Launceston private co-located hospital in Frankland Street yet to be finalised, politicians and doctors have emphasised the need for one specific service.
Chronic pain ranked first in a StLukesHealth member survey that was conducted late last year to determine which health areas the public felt were a priority for the facility. The state government has confirmed the Calvary $100 million proposal would include palliative care, mental health, post-natal services and elective surgery. However, chronic pain services are yet to be mentioned, with full details expected to be released in November.
Independent Murchison MLC Ruth Forrest, who has been advocating for chronic pain services in the North for more than 10 years, said the co-located hospital provided a chance to give sufferers better care. "Chronic pain is debilitating, it impacts people's mental and physical health and without good help, people suffer," she said.
"These services are so important to have locally because people are having to travel long distances to receive treatment, which is very uncomfortable for them," she said.
Ulverstone general practitioner Dr Emil Djakic said that booking his patients in to see a chronic pain specialist in Hobart can involve a six-to-nine-month wait. He believed lower socio-economic areas had a higher need for these services due to chronic pain sufferers sometimes being unable to work.
"I've seen a substantial number of people who are living with chronic health issues move into the area because they found affordability for housing," he said.
"This means as a region we have a bias for selecting people who bring their health issues with them and we haven't seen sufficient modelling from the state health services to fully address that issue just yet."
Burnie general practitioner Keith McArthur said patients with persistent pain had become exceedingly common.
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"Our knowledge of how and why it happens, as well as the best ways to manage it, has grown enormously, but the problem regarding lack of services in the North continues to be ignored, and it's been this way for a very long time," he said. "There are a few private set-ups here who treat patients for a fee, but that's something not all Tasmanians can afford."
A Department of Health spokesperson said the statewide Persistent Pain Service aimed to provide effective care and rehabilitation through education, improved self-management and teamwork.
They said it's a multidisciplinary pain management centre made up of pain medicine specialists, psychologists, physiotherapists and nurses, which patients can be referred to by their GP.
However, patients must initially be seen face-to-face for assessment in Hobart.
Launceston's Precision Brain, Spine and Pain Centre neurosurgeon and owner Richard Bittar said that while he'd been consulting in Tasmania for 16 years, he had attempted to provide multiple solutions to the issue.
Mr Bittar said he brought about 150 patients from Tasmania to Melbourne each year for spinal surgeries. He said he offered to perform these operations in Launceston on a regular basis and for a significantly decreased fee, but was denied by both the private and public hospitals.
"We've been trying to get one of our pain specialists accredited so that patients stop having to fly interstate just for injections," he said.
"But again, barriers are put up and we're told specialists aren't required here, when it's obvious they are."
University of Tasmania Associate Professor in General Practice Janette Radford said that while working as a full-time GP, she had noticed whenever the issue was raised publicly it was "thrown in the too-hard basket".
She said to satisfy the chronic pain needs of all Tasmanians, services needed to be free and available in each region. She said she could understand the government may see the implementation of such a program as being expensive, but believed it really was money well spent.
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