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Lord Luce: The best way to deal with chronic pain is to divert your attention to other issues

Policy Connect

6 min read Partner content

Speaking to PoliticsHome's Agnes Chambre, crossbench peer Lord Luce explains why it is so important for those suffering with chronic pain to be able to return to work.


Lord Luce has suffered with chronic pain for 45 years due to musculoskeletal problems of the lower back, so he knows what pressures and difficulties it creates for people.
 
The difference between him and many of the eight million other people in the UK who suffer from such conditions is that he has been able to stay in work. He has been able to do a remarkable range of jobs but without help from companies in the private sector and the NHS, this would never have been possible.
 
Now he wants everyone with chronic pain to have the help of the NHS and companies.
 
Lord Luce says if he had not been able to retain his jobs – and there were moments when that was “extremely tough” – his morale would have “gone really downhill”.
 
He tells PoliticsHome: “I think the best way to divert your chronic pain is to divert the pain's attention to other issues and if you are working hard all day, you are forgetting about your pain even though it’s there. You are concentrating on something different, and the contribution it makes to your morale and therefore your ability to cope, even though you are in pain, is immense.”
 
“My message to anybody is try and do whatever you can to divert the pain’s attention by doing something else as far as your body will allow you to.”
 
When he came into the House of Lords, he decided he wanted to help people who suffer from the same affliction as him. As it stands, he does not believe the NHS is doing enough.
 
“There are many wonderful sides to it but it will never, ever be able to satisfy every need; there will always be new demand and technology change and costs going up. So there's always a difficult issue here but my own feeling is that GPs are being asked to do so many different things, it is important to try and find ways to supplement them, to support them and to buttress their work.”
 
Helping GP and medical professionals is at the base of what Lord Luce and the Pain Policy Coalition – the peer and one or two other parliamentarians who are interested and concerned by this issue – are trying to do.
 
There is already the Fit for Work scheme in place which tries to help the long term unemployed back into employment. Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green has just published a new Green Paper, opening the door to reform of the system and, after a debate on the topic, DWP minister Lord Freud has said he will receive a delegation of the Pain Policy Coalition so they can discuss how the scheme can be improved.  
 
Lord Luce thinks there needs to be much more understanding within the NHS and among GPs. Chronic pain, he explains, seriously and adversely affects their day to day life and therefore people who suffer with it need multi-disciplinary support in the NHS.
 
He argues that that includes GPs, physiotherapists, occupational health professionals and acupuncturists.
 
“It needs every kind of skill to give support to the person concerned and it is that multi-disciplinary support that is not widely spread through the country and the National Health Service and we desperately need that and that needs to be improved in a big way.”
 
Lord Luce believes there must be more education about the scheme; people must realise, he believes, that an employer, or your GP can refer you to the new system where you’ll have an occupational health professional make an assessment of your long term illness and, if you are out of work for out of four works, then they can recommend a plan of action to get you into work with the right support. That means close coordination with the employers and to give them the chance to enable the individual make a contribution to the organisation they’re working for.
 
But he believes there must be more occupational health professionals, as it stands there are only about 4,000.
 
“If they’re to do this effectively they need enough of them.”
 
And it is not just the Government which can implement change as, Lord Luce believes, there must be a change in public consciousness.
 
“I cannot get across to people what it feels like if you suffer, unless you've actually suffered yourself. It's even difficult for a GP to understand, let alone friends and employers and so on. And that then leads to the attitude of employers and I mention the word presentism, that employees quite often are going to work but because of their chronic pain, or indeed if they have other illnesses like mental health, they are not performing at a rate that an employer would expect them to perform, they're not being productive because they are suffering and because quite often, the employee will not understand and will think that they're just not trying and they're not putting any effort in, it does need understanding and I think employers understand that there is a facility now that is paid for by the NHS to help your employees improve their health, then that should be beneficial to employers as well as employees.”
 
It is this point of employers understanding which Lord Luce expands on. He believes the evidence is clear that if companies hire occupational health professionals to help those who are suffering from chronic pain, and the NHS helps smaller companies to do the same, the whole of society will benefit.
 
“Employers will benefit because they will have employers contributing more, the country will benefit because there will be less tax on supporting them on benefits. But above all, the quality of life of the individual who has chronic pain can be improved by this. And this is what really matters above all us, it’s a will on the part of everyone to make this scheme work and the Government has really got to get going on this.”

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