The UK Gout Society recently attended the 7th European Symposium of the Societal Impact of Pain (SIP 2017) in Malta, organised by the European Pain Federation (EFIC), Pain Alliance Europe, the Active Citizen Network and Grünenthal.
The event brought together stakeholders from across the EU and MSK community – and provided a platform to raise awareness of the impact of pain, exchange ideas and information, develop consensus and policy strategies, and debate pain as a quality indicator for healthcare systems.

One-in-five adults in the EU are currently living with chronic pain. Direct and indirect healthcare spending on chronic varies between 2-3 percent of GDP across the member states. With more than 500 million sick days per year in Europe, musculoskeletal pain alone causes almost 50 percent of all absences from work. Yet chronic pain remains poorly managed and under-treated – not only affecting individuals living with pain, and the people close to them – but society at large.

There were a wide variety of informative and inspiring workshops and plenary sessions at the conference. These included presentations by advocacy groups, such as AGORA (the coalition of 19 southern European rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease patient organisations), Fibromyalgie France (French Fibromyalgia Association), and Arthritis Care Scotland; as well as lead clinicians, educational institutions, the Spanish Ministry of Health, European Medicines Agency, the German Pain Society, Fit for Work and the European Commission. MEPs also took an active part in debates – offering attendees to email them directly with questions regarding chronic pain for the European Parliament.

Despite the disparate speakers and content, common themes were apparent throughout the conference. Calls for a cross-functional approach to tackling chronic pain were echoed across many of the working group presentations and plenary sessions. Patients, doctors, insurers employers, policy makers and politicians need to work together to push chronic pain up the political and healthcare agenda. The need for structured cooperation between healthcare systems across Europe to tackle the societal impact of pain was deemed to be imperative – as well as the need for greater research and surveillance.

Another important topic was the role of terminology in ‘making or breaking’ patient access to medicines and health services. Is chronic pain a disease in its own right – chronic primary pain – other than just co-existing with other conditions? There was also a report from the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) Task Force for the Classification of Chronic Pain and the current field testing of a new version of the WHO’s ICD-11 which now includes codes for chronic pain.

At the close of SIP 2017, Martin Seychell, Deputy Director General DG SANTE, European Commission, announced the launch of an expert group on the social impact of pain within the EU’s Policy Platform. He stated: “We cannot have a successful Europe without taking care of our most important asset – our people.”
Overall, it was clear from the conference that, while acute pain may reasonably be considered a symptom of disease or injury – chronic and recurrent pain is a specific healthcare problem. “The relief of pain should be a human right,” concluded the President of EFIC.

Following SIP2017, on 16th June, EU Health Ministers, under the leadership of the Maltese Presidency, called for a review of access to treatment for patients suffering from chronic pain.

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