The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients awaiting spinal cord stimulation surgery in the United Kingdom: a multi-centre patient survey.
Baranidharan G., Bretherton B., Eldabe S., Mehta V., Thomson S., Sharma ML., Vajramani G., Bojanic S., Gulve A., FitzGerald J., Hall S., Firth J.
Introduction: Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a recommended treatment for chronic refractory neuropathic pain. During the COVID-19 pandemic, elective procedures have been postponed indefinitely both to provide capacity to deal with the emergency caseload and to avoid exposure of elective patients to COVID-19. This survey aimed to explore the effect of the pandemic on chronic pain in this group and the views of patients towards undergoing SCS treatment when routine services should resume. Methods: This was a prospective, multi-centre telephone patient survey that analysed data from 330 patients with chronic pain who were on an SCS waiting list. Questions focussed on severity of pain, effect on mental health, medication consumption and reliance on support networks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Views towards undergoing SCS therapy were also ascertained. Counts and percentages were generated, and chi-square tests of independence explored the impact of COVID-19 risk (very high, high, low) on survey responses. Results: Pain, mental health and patient's ability to self-manage pain deteriorated in around 47%, 50% and 38% of patients, respectively. Some patients reported increases in pain medication consumption (37%) and reliance on support network (41%). Patients showed a willingness to attend for COVID-19 testing (92%), self-isolate prior to SCS (94%) and undergo the procedure as soon as possible (76%). Conclusion: Our findings suggest that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains a strong clinical need for patients with chronic pain identified as likely SCS responders to be treated quickly. The current prioritisation of new SCS at category 4 (delayed more than 3 months) is challenged judging by this national survey. These patients are awaiting SCS surgery to relieve severe intractable neuropathic pain. A priority at category 3 (delayed up to 3 months) or in some selected cases, at category 2 are the appropriate priority categories.