‘I’ve cured my chronic back pain with £19 patch – but NHS won’t prescribe it’

A retired teacher claims a £19 patch has cured his chronic back pain and freed him from a life of prescription painkillers – but says the NHS still won't prescribe it to him.

says a revolutionary drug-free treatment rescued him from a cocktail of opioid painkillers and saved the NHS £8,000 in barely two-and-a-half years—but doctors STILL won't prescribe it to him.

Gary Meek, 62, from Harlow, Essex, suffers from degenerative disc disorder – a debilitating condition which causes chronic lower back pain.

He says the ActiPatch has saved the NHS £8,000 a year and is calling for it to be available to other sufferers.

Gary's agonising back pain forced him into early retirement at just 55 from his work as Senior Lecturer in Post Graduate Certificate of Education training IT Teachers at Middlesex University.

And years of coping through intense NHS-prescribed opioids and painkillers like duloxetine and fentanyl left the father-of-two wondering whether the pain or the side effects of medication were worse.

But that all changed when a fellow patient introduced him to a device that uses electromagnetic pulses to treat pain while on a pain management programme at St Thomas’ Hospital, in London.

He has now been using Actipatch for around 30 months and says it has been vital to him being able to reduce intake of a cocktail of painkilling drugs—including fentanyl.

Gary said: “I was taking a phenomenal concoction of opioids and NSAIDs [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] to mask the pain.

“I was in a haze. The amount and type of drugs I was on beforehand was a massive concern. A lot of the time I didn’t know what day of the week it was.

“Going back, the amount of medication I was taking— the likes of duloxetine and fentanyl patches—it was definitely time to get away from that.

“I’d spent 15 years on that kind of thing. And it’s very difficult to verbalise what the pain is like.

“But fentanyl patches are an especially dangerous drug to be taking. They are what led to the deaths of Michael Jackson and Prince.

“They were on a pretty high level, but I haven’t noticed the difference in pain since because Actipatch helped mask the increase in pain that came about through reducing medications that were prescribed.

“I have managed to almost halve my intake of drugs. Although not immediately, it was a progressive thing.

"And you can’t withdraw completely straight away, that would have been dangerous because of the type of drugs that I was on. It wasn’t easy.”

Actipatch is a drug-free relief system, which helps manage joint and muscle pain using 1,000 electromagnetic signal pulses a second.

Gary says he has struggled to get the treatment prescribed on the health service, despite claiming he has cut more than £8,000-worth of drug intake over 30 months.

According to NHS data, doctors prescribed the equivalent of 79 opioid pill packs per minute in 2017, and the number prescribed by GPs has risen by 10 million in a decade.

Last month, the Royal College of General Practitioners announced that GPs did not want to prescribe them for long-term use.

RCGP chair Helen Stokes-Lampard said most patients don’t want to take medication long-term and it was “frustrating for all involved that there is a lack of alternative treatments available”.

But Gary claims he has tried and failed to get the drug free alternative on the NHS despite it being available for prescription since April 2018.

He added: “I can’t see why the NHS isn’t looking at something like Actipatch as a genuine drug-free option for people suffering with chronic pain.

“Unfortunately, the good it is doing is being ignored. The financial side of it especially is just amazing.

“While on the pain-killing drugs, I saw the prescribing books and know how much each of them cost.

"And you only have to do some simple arithmetic to multiply the cost savings by the length of time a patient might be taking the drugs.

“For people suffering long-term pain, the costs and dangers are potentially huge. 

“The NHS has said it wants people off opioids, and you’ve only got to multiply that by 100, 1,000 or however many could be benefitting.”

After initially buying it for himself, Gary then mentioned it to his GP.

He said: "She’d never heard of it. I explained how it worked for me but she was unable to prescribe it for me as the request to the CCG was refused on the basis of there being ‘no evidence’ to support the benefits.

“But that is not the case everywhere. Through my research, there are some CCGs who are prescribing Actipatch, but there’s currently only about 20.

“After getting in touch with my CCG, I got a letter back asking if they could share my findings—and now they’re going to investigate further.

“As a retired person, I can’t afford to keep shelling out this kind of money. We shouldn’t have to pay when it is available to be prescribed.

“If for some reason I wasn’t able to keep getting hold of Actipatch, I would find it difficult to cope.

"I don’t want to go back to being on the drugs I was, so I’d be up the river without a paddle.

“I do not want to return to higher levels of medication. And I’m still trying to wean myself off of the remaining prescribed medications too.”

Actipatch has been sanctioned for prescription since April 2018, and is included on the NHS Drug Tariff Pages.

But according to Gary’s research, only a handful of CCGs recommend or prescribe the treatment, including two in Lincolnshire and Hampshire.

Leading pharmacist and CEO of Shamir Patel says that in order to avoid overprescription of opioids, more research into pain is needed.

He added: “Failure to get a grip of the amount of opioids we are prescribing could see the UK replicate the chronic addiction problems they are currently experiencing in the US.

“Luckily we have more barriers—like the NHS itself—in place to protect ourselves from something like that happening, but the truth is opioids are likely still being used in unnecessary circumstances.

“NICE has issued guidelines for the use of opioids for lower back pain and neuropathic pain, but guidance on general pain won’t be available until 2020.

“Non-drug treatments like Actipatch have been backed up by clinical trials and are available for GPs to prescribe all over the country.

“The treatment has changed the lives of many who could otherwise find themselves in the grip of a crippling opioid addiction.

“It may not work in every single scenario, but medical professionals need to sit up and take notice of a risk-free treatment which could provide a drug-free alternative for thousands of people suffering through the agony of chronic pain.”

Actipatch uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate the neuromodulation of nerves, which helps to dampen the feeling of pain — without any feeling of vibration, heat, or other uncomfortable sensations.

NHS England said it was unable to comment on individual prescriptions but although Actipatch is available for prescription through the national drug tariff, products have not been subject to a technology appraisal by NICE.

Prescribing policies on products for which there is no national direction are decided at local level, based on available clinical evidence and cost-effectiveness relative to other products.

An spokesperson said: “Ultimately these are decisions for local GPs who rightly advise patients on their care, and have to decide how best to balance the various competing demands on the NHS.”

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