“I Had Given Up Hope” – BRHS Pain Clinic a Game Changer for Locals

Like many people that suffer from chronic or persistent pain, Donna Bissett had just about resigned herself to the fact that constant pain was something she’d just have to live with.

After a long career in nursing in her native Tasmania, the pain is Donna’s back became debilitating, and soon began to have a pervasive impact on her life.

“It stopped me from working, in 2010,” she said. “It stopped me from doing anything.”

The traditional treatment combination of pain-killers and physio sessions made little difference.

“I’d go to the physio, they’d massage my back and that would be it,” Donna said.

Then, after moving to East Gippsland in 2020, she got a referral to the new Pain Management Clinic that Bairnsdale Regional Health Service (BRHS) had just established, under the guidance of Physiotherapist Heath Tomasini.

Heath bought to BRHS his experience working at pain management clinics in Melbourne and Geelong.

That experience had shown him that educating people about the causes of their pain and involving them proactively in treatment was the key to good results.

For Donna, that approach is working.

“Since I started with Heath, the pain is decreasing.
I felt like I had given up hope, but now it has changed.
He’s given me exercises to do, simple things, and they are making a difference.”

DONNA BISSETT

Donna credits the educational focus of the BRHS Pain Management Clinic with keeping her engaged and motivated in her treatment (“I’m really enjoying it, actually”), and with sustaining her improvement even when she has to skip a few sessions.

Heath says that level of patient buy-in and commitment is not just beneficial – it’s a requirement, because treatment success depends on it.

“We are a self-management service,” he says. “Part of our core criteria for treatment is that the patient is willing to do the work of self-managing that pain, whether it be through exercise or changing habits at home. This is evidence-based – we know that when patients are educated and empowered to self-manage their pain, you get improvements.”

BRHS Physiotherapist Heath Tomasini.

It’s clear that BRHS’ Pain Management Clinic is responding to what has long been an unmet need in East Gippsland.

Since it opened in May the clinic has had more than 100 referrals from local GPs, and the waiting list continues to grow.

Given the aging demographic, the prevalence of farming and labouring work, and the large Indigenous population, Heath says the data suggests there are at least 4,000 people in East Gippsland that are suffering from chronic pain.

Another core belief that has shaped BRHS’ Pain Management Clinic is that the causes of pain are multi-faceted, and so treatment of that pain must be multi-faceted too.

The clinic includes a Pain Management Clinician, a Physiotherapist and an Occupational Therapist, and it is hoped BRHS will be able to add a Psychologist in the near future.

“Psychology has a strong influence on a person’s pain.
We know it does not cause pain – pain is not in your head.
But a person’s emotional state plays a big role in turning up or turning down the volume of their pain.”

HEATH TOMASINI

Heath said that cases of chronic pain had increased during COVID.

“There was a spike in chronic pain presentations, statewide, during the second lockdown in 2020,” he said. “That makes sense. All that goes with life in lockdown, like the stress of being stuck at home and doing less activity, could have contributed to people experiencing chronic pain.”

If you think the Pain Management Clinic might be able to help you, talk to your GP.

If you’d like to know more, email pain.management@brhs.com.au, or call 5152 0207 or 5152 0206 and enquire about the Pain Management Clinic.

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