Outrage as patients told they can no longer use nearby pain clinic

Roderick Stewart in his Newport home with Councillor Brett
Roderick Stewart in his Newport home with Councillor Brett

NHS bosses are facing mounting pressure to reverse a decision to withdraw a pain clinic service from patients in north east Fife.

Users of the service were shocked to be told that they would no longer be able to go to the clinic in Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, but, instead, would have to make the journey to Dunfermline - in some cases a round trip of up to 100 miles.

The ‘bizarre’ development was raised by 77-year-old Rod Stewart of Newport-on-Tay, who is housebound and suffers from constant nerve pain caused by diabetes.

He can only stand for a few minutes at a time and says he would have to face a round trip of around 100 miles to attend the clinic at Dunfermline’s Queen Margaret Hospital, which he says would be too much of an ordeal.

Ninewells is no more than three miles away and, ironically, he can see the hospital from his bedroom window.

“When Ninewells was built, it was on the assumption that it was to be for patients in Tayside and north east Fife,” said Mr Stewart, a retired petroleum engineer.

“Now we’re being told that the pain clinic is no longer available to us and that we have to access the service in Fife.

“I can’t even attempt the long journey to Dunfermline because of the discomfort it would cause but also because there would be no suitable patient transport for me.

“I take medication which marginally reduces the pain and try to manage it with a TENS machine {Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation machine, used as an alternative to painkilling medication}.

“There must be quite a few people in the same position, not just in Taybridgehead but throughout north east Fife.”

A second patient, who didn’t wish to be named, also contacted the Fife Herald expressing her dismay at the withdrawal of the service.

The 43-year-old, who lives near Letham, said she was referred to the pain clinic at Ninewells by a neuro-surgeon due to back and shoulder pain.

She was successfully treated but later was involved in a car accident, which left her with a fractured sternum.

“Because I was already a patient at Ninewells and they had my notes I was referred to the pain clinic again by my doctor,” she explained.

“But then I received a very short and abrupt letter saying the service was no longer available to me. The letter wasn’t even addressed to me personally, I was just copied in.

“I can’t go to Dunfermline because of the distance and I would need to take a day off work.

“One of the best aspects of the clinic at Ninewells was that it offered alternative therapies such as acupuncture, which was very helpful.”

Mr Stewart’s predicament incensed Taybridgehead councillor Tim Brett, who said he would take the issue up with health minister Shona Robison if it wasn’t resolved by the health boards concerned, NHS Fife and NHS Tayside.

“This is bizarre and smacks of bureaucracy,” he said.

“As Mr Stewart is already being treated for a number of other conditions at Ninewells, I cannot see how refusing him access to the pain clinic can contribute to either his physical or mental wellbeing.

“Although there has long been an understanding that Ninewells acts as the district general hospital for north east Fife as well as Tayside, there appear to be suggestions that other services currently provided from Ninewells to St Andrews Community Hospital may also be withdrawn.

“ We are supposed in Scotland to have a National Health Service whereby patients can be referred to services most accessible to them on the advice of their general practitioners.

“In this instance, the GP’s request that Mr Stewart be seen at the pain clinic in Ninewells is being refused.”

As we went to press yesterday (Thursday), Councillor Brett was awaiting a response from Lesley Maclay , chief executive of NHS Tayside, as to who took the decision to withdraw the pain clinic service.

In the meantime, an NHS Tayside spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on individual patients, however, Fife patients can be referred to specific specialist services in NHS Tayside hospitals.

“Chronic pain is a very complex health condition and patients who require chronic pain management need specialist input from a multi-disciplinary team that includes doctors, nurses, physiotherapist, psychologists and pharmacists.

“It is preferable that patients access these services and health professionals in a coordinated way to ensure the optimum treatment.”