Medical Q&As

Severe back pain - no relief?

My wife hurt her back St. Stephen's Day 2001 and has been in severe pain ever since. She has needed several pain relieving injections and has been taking painkillers on a daily basis since then. Our G.P has told us that it will be five years before she'll get an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon and she cannot get a scan done until she sees the specialist. We only have the medical card. Is there any way out of this living hell?

There are several referral options other than referral to an orthopaedic surgeon. Clearly your wife is in a great deal of pain and it is not acceptable that she suffers in this way for several years while waiting to see an orthopaedic surgeon. There are a number of doctors that are expert in the field of orthopaedic medicine, which is a separate discipline from orthopaedic surgery. Such doctors are expert in the diagnosis of back problems and are also skilled in the area of back manipulation as well as various specialised injection techniques. They are not surgeons but are still very skilled in the treatment of back problems. Chartered physiotherapists can also be enormously helpful in diagnosing and treating back complaints. The modern chartered physiotherapist is an independent professional who is skilled in the area of diagnosis and does not work under the direction of a doctor. Many GPs work closely with chartered physiotherapists and your doctor may be able to recommend one in the area where you live. Chartered physiotherapists are listed in the golden pages telephone directory under the heading of chartered physiotherapists. I note that you have a medical card and regret to say that the services I have described are not covered under the medical card scheme. However, there are a number of chartered physiotherapists working in the community that are employed by the health boards for treating people with medical cards in the community. It is also possible to be referred by your GP to the physiotherapy department of your local hospital for further treatment. That treatment is covered under the medical card scheme. Referral to an orthopaedic physician is not covered by the medical card scheme and would involve the payment of a professional fee. In summary there is a range of options available to your wife that would not require the long waiting period you describe in your question. Unfortunately some of those options are not available to her under the medical card scheme.