About this release

This release by Public Health Scotland (PHS) reports on the length of time patients waited for a first appointment with a pain management service. These services provide chronic pain assessment and management and are delivered by multi-disciplinary teams.

Main points

  • Referrals to a chronic pain clinic are now back to levels seen prior to the COVID-19 pandemic when on average 5,197 patients were referred each quarter. In the quarter ending 31 March 2024, there were 5,071 referrals, an increase of 6.6% compared to the previous quarter, when 4,757 patients were referred. During 2023, there were on average 4,985 patients referred each quarter compared to 4,957 in 2022.
  • During the same quarter, 2,028 patients were seen at a consultant-led chronic pain clinic. This compares to 2,221 patients in the previous quarter, a decrease of 8.7% and to 2,185 patients seen a year earlier in the quarter ending 31 March 2023, a decrease of 7.2%. During the last year, an average of just over 2,000 patients were seen each quarter which is lower than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, when an average of just under 3,000 patients were seen per quarter during 2019. This is largely due to some NHS Boards introducing new pathways that offer some patients alternatives to being seen by a consultant. In these statistics, these patients are considered as no longer waiting once they take up this offer.
  • Of those seen at a consultant-led clinic, 993 (49.0%) had waited 12 weeks or less to be seen, which is similar to the experience of patients seen in 2019. However, the proportion of patients who had experienced much longer waits has been increasing. For instance, 39.9% of these patients had waited 25 weeks or more to be seen with 7.4% waiting 52 weeks or more. In comparison, during 2019, 14.3% of patients had waited 25 weeks or more and only 0.3% of patients had waited 52 weeks or more.
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were on average, 4,963 patients waiting at the end of each quarter during 2019. When services were impacted, the waiting list reduced significantly to 2,375, due largely to reduced referrals in the period April 2020 to March 2021. The trend since then has generally been upwards. At 31 March 2024, 4,906 patients were waiting for their first appointment at a chronic pain clinic, an increase of 4.7% compared to the previous quarter.
  • Of those still waiting to be seen at the end of each quarter, the proportion of patients who have been waiting longer for their first appointment has increased. During 2019, on average, 33.8% of patients had been waiting 13 weeks or more, compared to 43.4% at 31 March 2024. Most of these patients are waiting to be treated in NHS Grampian and NHS Tayside and have been waiting for 25 weeks or more. Long-term staff vacancies is reported as one of the main factors that has contributed to some patients experiencing longer waits in these Boards.
Image caption Distribution of wait for patients waiting at a consultant-led Chronic Pain clinic from quarter ending 31 December 2015 to 31 March 20241

Note 1: Data for NHS Orkney is unavailable for the quarters ending 31 December 2015 to 31 March 2016.


Chronic pain is pain that carries on for longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment. Further information can be found on the NHS Inform website. The data presented here have been adjusted for periods of patient unavailability. Any adjustments are based on the NHSScotland Waiting Times Guidance. For the NHS Boards who submit data on pain psychology clinics, further detail is available in the data tables and the publication report.

Further information

The next release of this publication will be 10 September 2024.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please contact Natalie Polack at phs.waitingtimes@phs.scot.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

Requesting other formats and reporting issues

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Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 04 June 2024
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