Towards a Provincial Pain Strategy for Nova Scotia

In January 2020, SKIP hosted a Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Best Brains Exchange (BBE) in Halifax titled Towards a Provincial Pain Strategy for Nova Scotia. The event was convened in partnership with Research Nova Scotia, Health Canada, the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and the IWK Health Centre, with the goal of engaging provincial, regional, federal, and international stakeholders.

This BBE was just one chapter in the long-time collaboration between Research Nova Scotia (RNS) and SKIP. RNS is a relatively new organization. Its predecessor, the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, was instrumental in preparing and supporting SKIP’s successful National Centres of Excellence application in 2018. RNS continues to support SKIP’s work both financially and in-kind.

“Other provinces had a provincial pain strategy, and we needed to bring together policy makers to make it happen,” says Marli MacNeil, COO of RNS. “We offered to organize the BBE to bring all those folks together to discuss the issue and come to a resolution.”

The application to the CIHR was accepted, and planning for the BBE — the first pain-related gathering of its kind in the Atlantic region — was off and running.

“SKIP is perfectly positioned to convene an event like this because they know the players: the clinicians, the patients, and the people in the power structures that need to work together,” explains MacNeil. “They bring together experts across the country and internationally that can inform the conversation and policy discussions and elevate them to a new level, especially for pain researchers and clinicians – it can be hard for them to mobilize on their own.”

BBEs bring senior policy-makers together with researchers and implementation experts to discuss high priority health-related topics. Towards a Provincial Pain Strategy for Nova Scotia brought together more than 60 stakeholders, including CEOs from both provincial health authorities and the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Nova Scotia. It also featured patient partners, as well as guests from Australia, Alberta, Ontario, and British Columbia as speakers and contributors.

The BBE grew into much more than a one-day meeting of the minds: Health Canada’s Canadian Pain Task Force was inspired to schedule their Atlantic regional workshop the day before to take advantage of the expertise available, and SKIP together with RNS convened a local Evidence to Impact session the day after for a smaller group of decision-makers to build provincial momentum and foster collaboration on a provincial pain strategy.

“In exploring best practices and needs in the field of pain, a recurring point of consensus is the importance of models and infrastructure that support research to action and knowledge mobilization. SKIP is a prime example of an initiative filling this important gap,” says Andrew Taylor of the Canadian Pain Task Force Secretariat. “It has also been instrumental in helping to connect policy-makers, researchers, clinicians, patients, and families at the federal, provincial, and local levels, enabling dialogue and coordination across Canada.”

“The bottom line is: empowering researchers through these sorts of networks and giving them structure enables the work they’re doing to get to the appropriate place,” adds MacNeil.

Adult patient partner Virginia McIntyre was the first speaker at the Canadian Pain Task Force workshop, opening the event by talking about her own experiences with chronic pain.

“This was the first time I got in front of a lot of people and said, ‘This is what happened to me with untreated pain’,” says McIntyre. “The healthcare system broke me. It took everything I could to get up and feel confident again. SKIP was my partner saying, ‘You’re awesome, you’re great’… They embrace you and give you strength.”

McIntyre first met Dr. Christine Chambers, SKIP’s Scientific Director, at a Canadian Pain Society conference. McIntyre later wrote an article about her experiences and reached out to Dr. Chambers for feedback. “I don’t think I would be who I am today without that initial answer from Christine and going out for coffee with her. I had lost my faith and lost my trust, but I trust SKIP. They were really my first partners and they’re my long-term partners.”

McIntyre has become an important part of the SKIP family. “SKIP is focused on children’s pain, and some of these children speak with me. They are growing into adults and many of them will carry their pain with them. I think we need to bridge that gap so we don’t have as many adults in pain.”

The network that grows out of an event like the BBE is invaluable, opening doors to new opportunities for research, knowledge mobilization, and patient partnerships. This translates into closing the gap between research findings and the deployment of better pain management for kids — and adults — across Canada.

“It also sets up a framework that allows for future collaboration that doesn’t require us to be involved,” adds MacNeil. “The hope is that the discussion and relationships started that day continue on. That is SKIP’s work.”

That ripple effect is echoed by McIntyre’s experience as a patient partner since joining forces with SKIP.

“I stand tall and I run a peer support group locally,” she says. “I’m on research committees, advisory committees. I’m honest, I share my voice, I speak up. I’m presenting at the Atlantic Pain Conference and the International Association for the Study of Pain! But SKIP was my first impact.

“We all have the right to have a life and to be able to function and be happy. There are over 7 million people in Canada living with pain. We’re going to make research better, and healthcare better.”