Rising national demand for pharmacy pain clinics from patients struggling with addictive painkillers
Pharmacists see demand for pain clinics increase by up to 47% since first lockdown
Growing number of patients treating themselves at home
Study shows powerful-strength prescriptions for codeine jumped fivefold in a decade
A growing number of the UK’s independent pharmacists and clinicians are providing free pain clinics for patients, using cutting-edge technology developed by a British startup, in a bid to reduce dependence on addictive painkillers.
The 12 pain clinics, which include 10 pharmacies, a podiatry clinic and a sports therapist across Wales and Scotland, offer a self-referral scheme for patients who want to better manage their pain and condition. It has proved so popular, that it is now being rolled out further, with a further two joining in December 2020 in Kyle and Hamilton, Scotland, and more planned this year.
The appointments involve a consultation about current medication and an opportunity to use NuroKor bioelectric nerve stimulation technology. The wearable devices use electrical currents to manage pain, regenerate and repair, reduce inflammation and recovery time.
Although its expansion has been slowed by the pandemic, overall there has been an estimated 25% rise in clinic appointments since the UK’s first lockdown and a 47% increase at the first pain clinic, based in Llanedeyrn, Cardiff.
The programme is headed by Mark Hopkins, owner and head pharmacist at Hopwoods Pharmacy, Llanedeyrn, who says “a blended approach to treating pain allows patients to take back control”. With a lifetime spent bending over dispensing prescriptions, he first introduced it to his own patients after using the device for his chronic neck pain. He added:
“The technology made a big difference to me, so I wanted to be able to offer it to my patients. There are an increasing number of pharmacies interested in providing natural pain clinics for their patients, because many people are struggling with the negative side-effects of using opiates.
"Demand for the clinics has risen dramatically since the first lockdown and we’ve seen patients with a variety of conditions able to reduce their painkiller intake by 50-85 per cent and some now aren’t taking painkillers at all.
“With many GP practices switching to mainly online services, pharmacies have stepped up to provide more frontline services. There’s also an increased demand from people to treat themselves at home. Being proactive about meeting the needs of their communities, not only helps patients and relieves pressure on the NHS, but it also supports the future of pharmacies.”
Since the service launched in October 2019, the pharmacies have provided over 300 consultations using NuroKor’s technology, to patients struggling to cope with both their pain and the side-effects of opioids.
The company’s bioelectric devices have an extremely high success rate, with 93% of patients, able to reduce their opioid doses by as much as 85%, as well as radically improved healing times and increased muscle strengthening. Currently the devices have to be bought if patients want to continue to use them after the free trial, but the long-term hope is that they will become available on the NHS.
93% of patients, able to reduce their opioid doses by as much as 85%
Scottish Pharmacy Awards winner Cadham Pharmacy Health Centre in Glenrothes, Scotland, introduced its clinic 12 months ago after owner and head pharmacist Bernadette Brown grew increasingly concerned about the problems caused by long-term opioid use.
She said: “Over the years, we have seen a big increase in the numbers of people prescribed opioids. Due to the unpleasant side-effects and the problems with addiction, I wanted to offer my patients a safe and effective alternative. I believe it is our responsibility as pharmacists to realise that painkillers might not always be the best solution for the long-term management of chronic pain.”
One of those to benefit from the scheme is Bernadette’s 35-year-old niece Chantelle McCabe, from Buckingham, England, who attended the clinic in July, after struggling with the side-effects of opiates to manage her rheumatoid arthritis.
Since she started using the technology, she has been able to reduce her medication by 85%.
She said: “I was taking such high doses of opiates, I was constantly tired, had bad headaches and I would come in from work and go straight to bed. I was struggling to walk and unable to work at times and I thought I would have to give up my job. My pain is now much more manageable and I feel a lot more positive about the future.”
A study by the University of Manchester involving two million users has shown a five-fold increase in UK prescriptions for opiate and the addictive drug codeine between 2006 and 2017. Other opioid drugs such as tramadol and oxycodone were used less commonly, but had even steeper rises.
UK health-tech startup NuroKor BioElectronics was created by CEO Rick Rowan in 2018, who spotted the immense and underdeveloped potential of bioelectric technology as therapeutic electroceutical applications.
Operating across the UK, Norway, France, Ireland, US, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, the company develops and produces state-of-the-art, wearable technology using peripheral nerve, microcurrent and neuromuscular stimulation, to help manage pain and optimise healing and physical performance.
NuroKor’s users range from more than 40 Olympians and elite athletes, to clinicians and everyday people suffering with an array of conditions - from arthritis to menopause. The company’s technology enables greater autonomy over a person’s own treatment and can reduce the need for medication.
The ‘disruptive’ startup aims to bring about social change, developing personalised, bioelectrical technology that helps people to live better lives and to improve global health.
Today, NuroKor is at the forefront of bioelectric technology, with several research and clinical trial projects running in collaboration with some of the UK’s leading NHS trusts and universities.