UK National Health Service refuses to pay for lower-back painkillers

Commenter LCB sent me this very popular article from the UK Telegraph. This article is their most popular article as of Sunday. (ECM also sent it)

The title is “Patients forced to live in agony after NHS refuses to pay for painkilling injections”.

Excerpt:

The Government’s drug rationing watchdog says “therapeutic” injections of steroids, such as cortisone, which are used to reduce inflammation, should no longer be offered to patients suffering from persistent lower back pain when the cause is not known.

Instead the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is ordering doctors to offer patients remedies like acupuncture and osteopathy.

Specialists fear tens of thousands of people, mainly the elderly and frail, will be left to suffer excruciating levels of pain or pay as much as £500 each for private treatment.

The NHS currently issues more than 60,000 treatments of steroid injections every year. NICE said in its guidance it wants to cut this to just 3,000 treatments a year, a move which would save the NHS £33 million.

Why did the government decide that accupuncture and osteopathy were more effective than painkillers? Was it because of research findings? Or was it due to the influence of  alternative medicine lobbyists?

The NICE guidelines admit that evidence was limited for many back pain treatments, including those it recommended. Where scientific proof was lacking, advice was instead taken from its expert group. But specialists are furious that while the group included practitioners of alternative therapies, there was no one with expertise in conventional pain relief medicine to argue against a decision to significantly restrict its use.

Doctors don’t like it at all, but government-run health care means government-run health care.

Dr Jonathan Richardson, a consultant pain specialist from Bradford Hospitals Trust, is among more than 50 medics who have written to NICE urging the body to reconsider its decision, which was taken in May.

He said: “The consequences of the NICE decision will be devastating for thousands of patients. It will mean more people on opiates, which are addictive, and kill 2,000 a year. It will mean more people having spinal surgery, which is incredibly risky, and has a 50 per cent failure rate.”

…Anger among medics has reached such levels that Dr Paul Watson, a physiotherapist who helped draft the guidelines, was last week forced to resign as President of the British Pain Society.

So much for the “public” option. It should be called the “rationing” option.

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