NHS accused of letting patients suffer

The president of the Royal College of Anaesthetists yesterday accused health authorities and NHS trusts of failing to take patients' suffering seriously.

Leo Strunin, professor of anaesthetics at the Royal London Hospital, said managers were failing to provide the funds and the leadership necessary to ensure that proper pain relief was available in hospitals.

"What is required is a commitment to do it and the wherewithal to do it. Pain goes away - that is the problem. Many health authorities and trusts do not see it as a quality issue," he said.

Professor Strunin was responding to an Audit Commission report, published today, which says that the amount of pain suffered by patients depends on the hospital in which they are treated.

The report, Anaesthesia under Examination, which was leaked on Monday to The Independent, says hospitals with acute pain control teams - specially trained staff who assess and treat patients' pain - have been shown to reduce suffering but only 57 per cent of hospitals have them.

Professor Strunin said: "Some NHS trusts don't think there is any value in these teams. They seem to think it is not a problem if things are done the way they have always been done."

The Patients' Association yesterday launched a campaign to put patients in control of their pain relief.

Claire Rayner, its chairman, said: "The British stiff upper lip really does exist in terms of our tendency to suffer in silence when in pain.

"Our campaign will focus on ensuring that both patients and health professionals have access to up-to-date information on pain management."

The Audit Commission report also found that despite a 41 per cent growth in the number of consultant anaesthetists over the past 10 years, demand still outstrips supply. Half of trusts reported a shortage of consultants with an average of 13 per cent of posts vacant.

One in five trusts had been unable to compensate for these shortages - making it more difficult to schedule operations, offer epidurals to mothers in labour or staff pain clinics.

The report says the health service should consider training nurse anaesthetists to work alongside consultants to ease the workload.

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