For the first time, a dollar value has been attached to the high cost of pain in Australia in an MBF Foundation funded study that reveals a massive annual cost of $34.3 billion -- nearly $11,000 for each of the estimated 3.2 million people grappling with pain. The price tag of pain includes both financial costs and loss of healthy life.

The MBF Foundation study "The High Price of Pain: The Economic Impact of Persistent Pain in Australia, " conducted by Access Economics in collaboration with the University of Sydney Pain Management Research Institute also found that the people who are suffering from persistent pain are carrying more than half of its overall cost burden. The Foundation has called for pain to be treated as a health priority with a co-ordinated national response.

Findings from the study will be used to identify the best ways to ease suffering, save healthcare dollars and help patients maintain productive lives.

Dr Christine Bennett, MBF chief medical officer and chair of the MBF Foundation Steering Committee, said that establishing the economic cost of pain to Australia was a very significant development for healthcare strategy.

"The impact and cost of persistent pain is so widespread that a national approach is needed to address this major health issue and its hidden health burden," Dr Bennett said. "This is vital because pain is involved across a number of existing National Health Priority Areas such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, musculoskeletal disease and diabetes.

"The study shows that the bottom line of chronic pain is huge both in human terms and its economic impact. Australians suffering from persistent pain could benefit from approaches that can help them manage or minimise their pain to improve their lives and the health system."

The study's expert advisory panel led by pain management pioneer Professor Michael Cousins AM, Dr Fiona Blyth at Sydney's Pain Management Research Institute found that:

* 3.2 million people are living with pain and more women than men are affected

* Productivity loss is $11.7 billion annually, or 34 per cent of total pain-related costs

* The burden of disease accounts for a further third at $11.5 billion

* Health system costs account for $7 billion, around 20 per cent of total pain-related costs

Professor Cousins said the study should prompt more action to prevent pain from going under-treated or untreated at all so that its economic cost can be reduced.

"It is now possible to manage persistent pain in 70-80 per cent of patients yet fewer than 10 per cent actually obtain pain relief," said Professor Cousins.

"Providing resources to deliver proper pain treatment has the potential to save Federal and State Governments enormous amounts of public funds. At least 50 per cent of patients who have access to effective treatment can return to a reasonable lifestyle, offering savings on hospital and doctor visits, x-rays, surgery and medications, not to mention improved productivity."

Dr Bennett said the landmark study would put pain on the health agenda. The MBF Foundation would be pursuing the next positive steps towards improving the lives of Australians living with chronic pain. These include:

* Developing a coordinated National Plan for Pain;

* Replacing ineffective stand alone therapies with effective multidisciplinary approaches, and

* Providing education and awareness for health providers particularly in primary care


About the MBF Foundation

The MBF Foundation is a charitable institution set up by MBF to support and manage important health initiatives for the community using a portion of MBF Group's investment income each year. The Foundation is focussing on three key areas - wellness and obesity, supporting healthy ageing and keeping healthcare affordable.

About the Pain Management Research Institute

Established in 1990, the Pain Management Research Institute is a joint initiative between the University of Sydney and the Royal North Shore Hospital. It is engaged in fostering education, basic and clinical research on the causes and treatment of all types of postoperative, cancer and severe persistent pain and is the only major multi-disciplinary pain centre in Australia - and one of the few in the world - to meet all the criteria of the International Association for the Study of Pain.

Jackie Crossman
Research Australia