Efforts are being made to make a network of more than 250 chronic pain centres - called structures spécialisées douleur chronique, centres anti-douleur or centres de la douleur - across France better known.
The centres cover a wide range of conditions, including cancer, neurological disorders, rheumatic pains and long-term discomfort following an operation.
Dr Sophie Laurent, who works in the pain treatment centre at the Gustave Roussy cancer hospital in Villejuif, south of Paris, said: “We want people to be more aware of our existence, and for doctors to know they can refer patients to us.
“We also want to see an increase in the number of centres. Pain is often neglected, but is a real part of any illness or condition. Chronic pain is very, very common and can be extremely debilitating.” Dr Laurent said her centre takes a multidisciplinary approach to the problem, which can include medication, but also other types of treatment such as acupuncture and hypnosis.
“We work closely with different specialists, work out a treatment plan with the patient, and review it whenever necessary,” she said.
“Sometimes we might see a patient only once or twice. For others, it can last for years. Each case is different, and we try to find out what will work for each individual patient, in their particular circumstances.
“Our job is to understand the pain and its cause and to remove that cause if possible. We cannot always succeed in getting rid of the pain completely, but we can help a person manage it better.”
Patients need a prescription from a doctor or specialist to make an appointment. The centres are present in hospitals in every region and vary in size and speciality, but Dr Laurent says they are not well known by either the public or other medical practitioners. A full list of centres can be found online.
Dr Laurent is a member of SFETD, the Société Française d’Etude et Traitement de la Douleur.
In a 2019 study, the organisation found that 32% of people complained of daily pain which had lasted more than three months, 12 million people in France suffer from chronic pain, and more than 70% of those patients do not receive appropriate treatment or access to a psychologist if it is necessary.
SFETD is calling for better funding, alongside an increase in the number of centres. It also says medical students should have more training in pain management.
Only 20 hours are officially given over to the subject in six years of study.