A bed-ridden Melbourne man who has been forced to wait until after the lockdown to see a neurosurgeon is one of many Australians who are suffering unnecessarily amid a “pain management crisis”.
Kristian Clancy, 33, said even with opioid painkillers and muscle relaxers, he can’t escape the unrelenting, sharp pain that radiates from his lower back to his right leg.
A former primary school teacher, Mr Clancy said the neurosurgeon who his GP wants him to see about his bulging disc is not taking on new clients until Melbourne’s Stage 4 restrictions are lifted on September 13.
Until then, he has to spend the majority of his days lying in bed to reduce the shooting pains.
In a statement, the Australian Medical Association said “Victorians should not be waiting until lockdown is over to see their specialists”.
Without knowing when the neurosurgeon will be able to see him, Mr Clancy said “I am looking for hope and I’m looking for an idea of where I’m going from here”.
The Australian Pain Management Association has seen a 30 per cent increase in requests for support since April, its chief executive Jessica Taylor said.
“We really have a pain management crisis on our hands,” she said.
Healthcare professionals have been “absolutely inundated” with people needing their services, with some having to increase their hours to “keep up with the influx”, Ms Taylor said.
But many sick people are struggling to get help because of “very, very long” waitlists and hospitals and health services not taking in certain patients, she said, adding that medical professionals have not always been able to remedy the problem with telehealth appointments.
Finding it “even more difficult”, Ms Taylor said, are people who have had their medication reduced or removed but can’t access pain management services.
Sam Biondo, chief executive of the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, expects there to be “a range of demand crises across a number of service areas”.
Residential rehabs have reduced the number of people who can physically stay at the residence due to social distancing requirements.
“It builds up a bubble of demand,” Mr Biondo said.
“If we know that we’re getting an alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds, certainly that’s growing the market of people that are going to have problems.
“The street market has also continued on and we believe that people are displacing and substituting other substances as a means to try and deal with their addictions.”
To help manage pain, Ms Taylor said people should create a “tool box” of resources and information that is relevant to them and can help them get through each day without having to rely on the health system – because “in times like this it’s really unknown of what and how we can get that help”.
“Let’s say someone has persistent pelvic pain. They might like to do some particular persistent pelvic exercises to reduce a flare or help them ease the flare,” Ms Taylor suggested.
Factor in self-care practices, she said.
“It might be brushing your teeth for the day, but people that live with pain that really might be all that they can achieve – and that’s OK – but they’re giving themselves a little bit of self-care, despite how boring it might seem.”