Reducing harm for people with chronic pain by reducing the prescribing of opioids

August 7, 2023


At the Health Innovation Network (HIN) South London we developed a local programme across south London in response to the nationally commissioned Medicines Safety Improvement programme (MedSIP). The Patient Safety Collaboratives (PSCs) are working with a minimum of 15 ICS, will collectively achieve the ambition to improve care for people with persistent (chronic, non-cancer) pain by reducing opioid analgesic use by the end of March 2025:

  • 30,000 fewer people were prescribed oral or transdermal opioids (of any dose) for more than 3 months.
  • Of the 30,000 above 4,500 patients will have been prescribed a high dose (≥120mg day oral morphine equivalent) at baseline and have now stopped opioids.
“All too often the complexity of having chronic pain and of helping people and professionals to manage pain are overlooked. High prescriptions of opioids can be a result. I’m delighted that this work has looked at how to manage pain as well as reducing harm from opioids.” Natasha Curran, Consultant in Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine at UCL Hospitals and Medical Director of the Health Innovation Network.
Our local programme covered the following:

Working with staff to drive improvement

We delivered a CPD-accredited Opioid Stewardship Quality Improvement Collaborative for clinicians across south London from October 2022 to March 2023. Please click here to find out more.

Opioid Action Learning Set workshops

The Health Innovation Network South London invites primary and secondary care clinicians to join our online Opioid Action Learning Sets (ALS) to build their understanding of the complex issues surrounding initiating, de-escalating opioids and effectively supporting patients living with pain. Sessions will occur on 18, 30 January and 27 February 2024 from 12.00- 13-00. Registrations are now closed.

Using opioid prescribing data for system audit-feedback

We shared local opioid prescribing data packs with GP practices across south London based on the Campaign to Reduce Opioid Prescribing . Please click here to find out more.

Working in partnership with people living with chronic pain

We facilitated an experience-based co-design (EBCD) project using the Point of Care Foundation methodology. The aim of the EBCD project was to improve chronic pain management by bringing patients and staff lived and learnt experiences together to prioritise and co-design solutions as equal partners. Please click here to find out more.

Recommendations for whole systems working to improve opioid stewardship

  1. Pain clinic referrals are often seen as the next step once other options have been explored in primary care however onward referral to for example talking therapies, physiotherapy and exercise should be considered.
  2. Where possible it is important that the same clinician and prescriber who commence the opioid prescription are also responsible for ongoing monitoring and reviewing. Clinicians should have the opportunity to discuss complex cases at team meetings.
  3. Primary and secondary care clinicians should have an awareness of the breadth of services in their locality that can assist with supporting patients to adjust to the impact of living with persistent pain on their daily life e.g., social prescribing link workers.
  4. Joint consultations for complex pain management in adults across primary care networks e.g., clinic appointments with colleagues across several disciplines with specialist input from hospital pain clinics should be considered. GP appointments tend to be short, therefore making it challenging for clinicians to have sufficient time to support patients living with persistent pain as much as they would like to.
  5. Maximising digital prescribing systems e.g., creating alerts, issuing weekly prescriptions, and communicating plans to reduce high-risk opioid prescribing to other multidisciplinary team colleagues.
  6. Sharing decisions with patients about how to improve persistent pain management and agreeing on reductions when tapering opioids through regularly scheduled regular follow-ups.
  7. Introducing the idea of changes to the ways persistent pain is managed and informing patients of the risk of harm for long-term and high-dose opioid prescribing at an initial appointment and scheduling follow-ups to explore alternatives to pain medicines.

You can read more about developments with our local programme throughout 2022/23 here in our blogs:

Find out more

To find more about our local programme please contact Natasha Callender, Senior Project Manager and Medicines Workstream Lead.

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