Chronic pain, which is pain lasting more than three months, affects more than two-fifths of the UK population. It affects a person’s mobility and independence, and often leads to depression. People with chronic pain can experience:
NHS pain management programmes (PMP) help people learn how to gain a sense of control over their pain through different self-management techniques. They can help reduce reliance on drugs, and help people to re-establish their roles in their family, work and social lives. But the positive impact of PMPs isn’t always maintained after the programme has ended.
Patients and staff at North Bristol NHS Trust tackled this problem by encouraging patients to develop their own follow-on peer support groups once they’ve finished their PMP. These groups aim to sustain and build on the positive effects of PMPs for the longer term. This is different from joining a local support group because it’s limited only to those who attended the same PMP course, building on the bonds that have formed and continuing the impetus of the course. Members of follow-on peer support groups are encouraged to continue with goal setting, consolidating what they achieved during PMP and providing mutual support in the face of pain flare-ups or other setbacks.
We interviewed seven clinical staff who run PMPs and 38 PMP patients about their experiences to gain an understanding of the impact of promoting follow-on groups. Some of the patients had attended follow-on peer support groups, and some hadn’t. We examined patients’ experiences and why peer support may, or may not, have worked for them.
The materials we have produced to support the development of peer support groups were designed with people with experience of these groups. They were involved in every stage of the design process.
Continuing the social connections developed during the PMP course helped people consolidate the self-management techniques they had learned, and incorporate them into their lives. The groups enabled members to provide support to each other, where a shared understanding about the effects of living with pain helped them gain more control over their lives.
“I think it’s helped a lot because I don’t feel on my own anymore”
“It has been my lifeline”
Discussing different ways of dealing with pain helped people try out new techniques and learn more about how to cope with pain in everyday life. People attending at least 12 out of 17 PMP courses went on to form follow-on groups but not everyone participating in a PMP wanted to attend peer support groups, for a variety of reasons.
Peer support groups can be a low-cost and effective intervention, encouraging people to consolidate self-management techniques into their lives and preventing relapse.
To support the development of these groups elsewhere, we have designed materials for clinicians who facilitate pain management courses and people who take part in them. The materials were co-designed by people from peer support groups working closely with ARC West researchers.
The materials include:
We can send editable Word versions of these leaflets to clinicians wishing to support the development of peer support groups after PMPs. Please email Michelle Farr firstname.lastname@example.org to receive Word versions. We will also send you an evaluation questionnaire that you can use to get a clearer picture of the difference these peer support groups might make to your patients.
North Bristol NHS Trust is one of the largest teaching trusts in the country and serves the population of Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset. Their internationally renowned specialist areas include neurosciences, renal, orthopaedics, major trauma, urology, plastic surgery and neo-natal intensive care.