The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

In Valletta, experts pave the way for better European pain policy

Monday, 12 June 2017, 15:30 Last update: about 5 years ago

On Friday the annual Societal Impact of Pain (SIP) symposium came to an end in Valletta. The event brought together more than 300 participants, including patients, healthcare professionals, pain advocacy groups, researchers and specialists in the field of pain as well as insurers and European politicians. According to the experts, more than 100 million people in the European Union are suffering from chronic pain. The platform aims to change health care policy in the European Union and alleviate the negative effects of pain on society. For that, participants worked on clear policy recommendations for two days and presented these to the plenary. As a result, they might change the World Health Organizations' classification of chronic primary pain and convinced the European Commission to recognise the societal impact of pain and to implement an expert group in the newly launched EU Health Policy Platform.

One of the major outcomes of this year's SIP symposium is the announcement made by Martin Seychell, Deputy Director General in the Health and Food Safety's Directorate. In a speech on Friday, he made clear that the European Commission is following SIP's lead and has launched the EU Health Policy Platform to build a bridge between health systems and policy makers. Among other health policy areas, the societal impact of pain is included as well and will have a dedicated expert group.

Ultimately, the expert group that is to be composed will be an instrument that enhances best practice sharing across EU member states, in coordination with the Commission. Once fully functioning, public health groups in all areas, employers' organizations, insurers, economists and even digital stakeholders are to be involved. The EU Health Policy Platform operates in two ways: online discussions and collaboration as well as face-to-face meetings to host targeted thematic discussions. The platform the European Commission has launched, contributes to the objectives SIP is pursuing and formulates in its policy recommendations.


On Thursday, day one of the symposium, different working groups worked out individual suggestions targeting the issues discussed. These were presented during the plenary on Friday:


  • Establish an EU platform on the societal impact of pain
  • Develop instruments to assess the societal impact of pain
  • Initiate policies addressing the impact of pain on employment
  • Prioritise pain within education for health care professionals, patients and the general public
  • Increase investment in research on the Societal Impact of Pain


"The European Commission's initiative reflects the Maltese Presidency's goal of structured cooperation between healthcare systems. It is a huge step forward for patients throughout Europe, and a huge gain in momentum for our efforts," said a delighted Gertrude Buttigieg of the Malta Health Network, a patient organisation that co-hosted the symposium.


Another significant milestone that materialised during the symposium was flagged by Dr Robert Jakob, a medical officer at the World Health Organisation (WHO). He announced that the global institution setting health policy standards has proposed a new definition of 'chronic pain' which could see care for pain patients improve significantly. This classification is to be included in the newest catalogue of the WHO's International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The classification of chronic primary pain as a disease should lead to governments taking a new interest in pain and how their health systems assess and treat it. Governments usually follow the ICD when they are altering their health systems and considering which services to fund. It also informs clinicians and researchers alike. Now, chronic primary pain is likely to be included for the first time when the current ICD process concludes.


What's in it for Malta?

Apart from pan-European policy making, the symposium also hosted a session on the impact of pain on the Maltese society. Initiated by SIP Malta, Malta Health Network and the No Pain Foundation, participants outlined how various Maltese organizations, which are engaged in improving health care, collaborated to address the issue of chronic pain. In the consensus paper they developed, they call for national policy makers to adopt nine policy recommendations throughout Malta as part of a National Pain Plan by 2020. "Maltese pain management policies and services should be restructured and more streamlined towards European guidelines. Moreover, local authorities should put greater focus on retraining and reintegration of pain patients into the workforce since it not only poses economic benefits but also improves social advantages on individual level," reasoned Buttigieg. 

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