Pain care in our NHS

We developed this project with Jackie Walumbe, a doctoral research fellow in primary care health sciences and physiotherapist working in pain services, whose PhD investigates the gap between current pain management practices in the NHS and the wider ‘socio-material entanglements and relational aspects of living with chronic pain’.

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“Working with Design Science has allowed me to translate some difficult and counter intuitive concepts into meaningful and understandable media.
Jackie Walumbe, University of Oxford

The research

Jackie’s research asks three questions:

  • How patients are coping without the support of a specialist service and what they do to help themselves
  • How health professionals do (or perhaps don’t) support patients who drop out or who are not able to attend pain management programmes
  • What is happening to support self-management for people with chronic pain in policy

Through workshops and creative research we co-designed a visual guide to ‘pain care’ – reimagining the NHS’s approach to pain management by placing people’s experience of pain at the centre of a future service paradigm.

What we did

The document we developed shares Jackie’s research, explains how patients ‘care for their pain’, identifies things that the NHS gets right and wrong and suggests ‘a new future for pain care’. 

Co-design process

Our process involved asking the wider health and wellbeing community to co-design a people-centred pain care journey and share some examples of ways of communicating pain care within the NHS and consider how society might engage with the complex set of issues that underpin pain from a personal and cultural perspective:

  • Many of us are excluded from (or drop out of) NHS pain management services
  • We need to support each other through better policy and practice
  • We don’t understand or practise self-management of chronic pain in one way:
    – We have multiple concepts of pain
    – We bypass formal approaches to pain management
    – We deal with pain through our changing relationships with (our bodies), other people, places, objects (and practices & activities)
  • Contemporary ways of discussing pain are based on ‘neoliberal’ ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘cost/benefit analysis’ approaches
  • We need a different way of thinking about access to pain care services:
    – Spread investment beyond traditional providers
    – Extend support to non-healthcare settings
    – Attend more closely to the entanglements and relational aspects of living with chronic pain

“I have found these materials invaluable in communicating my work with different audiences, including people with lived experience, their families and carers, clinicians and decision makers.“
Jackie Walumbe, University of Oxford


Following these outputs, we worked with puppet maker and animator Rachael Olga Lloyd to develop this short video on ‘The future of pain care‘.

“I love it! ‘Pain care’ feels like it works on many levels. From feeling cared for by HCPs/medical system through to ‘Pain self care’… gentler, more aware and kinder.”
Footsteps Festival

Next steps

In the next phase of this project we’ll be running further workshops with patients and practitioners to understand what works and what doesn’t work both within the NHS and in wider society, and use this understanding and Jackie’s deep research to reimagine pain care from a human centred perspective.

Are you examining global challenges that would benefit from critical and thoughtful design research? Do get in touch

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