Poor management of chronic pain across the European Union is costing the region billions of Euros - perhaps as much as 300 billion euros - and is prolonging patient suffering, a new report has concluded.

The Pain Proposal European Consensus Report, written by a range of experts and policymakers and sponsored by drug giant Pfizer, has been released to European Parliament in a call for action to improve the treatment of chronic pain and ensure everyone has access to a minimum standard of care, which, it claims, will generate substantial savings and boost outcomes for patients.

Chronic pain could be costing Europe as much as 300 billion euros every year, it says, with national bills spanning 1.1 billion euros to almost 50 billion euros, and while the direct costs to healthcare systems are significant, it has been estimated that nine-tenths of the burden falls on wider society, such as employers, families and taxpayers.

The report found that 21% of Europeans with chronic pain are currently unable to work because of their chronic pain, and of those who are able to, 61% said it had directly impacted their employment status. In addition, people with chronic pain in employment felt that their condition interfered with their ability to work effectively 28% of the time.

But crucially, the report has revealed huge gaps in the care of patients with the condition across Europe, which, if addressed, could improve outcomes and cut unnecessary expense. For example, current data show that in Europe, patients with chronic pain wait 2.2 years from first seeking medical advice and a diagnosis, and 38% feel their pain is not adequately managed.

Currently around one in five adults on average suffer from moderate to severe chronic pain across the region, but this figure is set to increase with the ageing population placing an even greater burden on local economies, highlighting the urgent need to improve the patient pathway and increase public awareness of the condition so that help is sought at an earlier stage.

Improving the system

“European economies cannot sustain the current spend on chronic pain – for example welfare costs which may run into millions,” said Professor Giustino Varrassi, President of the European Federation of IASP Chapters, Professor and Chairman, Department of Anaesthesiology and Pain Medicine, L'Aquila University, Medical School, Italy. But he stressed there are “steps we can take to improve the current system and help people get the recognition, diagnosis and treatment they need for this life-long condition”.

As such, the report makes several recommendations to help paint a better picture for patients in Europe. For one, it says physicians need better training and education on what treatments and services are available, healthcare pathways must be simplified, and policymakers must identify pain as an important issue in European societies if the magnitude of the problem is to be recognised and addressed.