The Daily Telegraph has offered the latest headline on nationalized health care restrictions in Britain: "Patients forced to live in agony after NHS refuses to pay for painkilling injections: Tens of thousands with chronic back pain will be forced to live in agony after a decision to slash the number of painkilling injections issued on the NHS, doctors have warned." Laura Donnelly reported:
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.
But the British Pain Society, which represents specialists in the field, has written to NICE calling for the guidelines to be withdrawn after its members warned that they would lead to many patients having to undergo unnecessary and high-risk spinal surgery.
Dr Christopher Wells, a leading specialist in pain relief medicine and the founder of the NHS' first specialist pain clinic, said it was "entirely unacceptable" that conventional treatments used by thousands of patients would be stopped.
"I don't mind whether some people want to try acupuncture, or osteopathy. What concerns me is that to pay for these treatments, specialist clinics which offer vital services are going to be forced to close, leaving patients in significant pain, with nowhere to go,"
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.
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."
Would Americans really envy a "sophisticated" system like this one?