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Chronic pain: from public health impact to impact on public health policy

Project Description

Chronic pain represents a frequent and disabling condition and it is generally acknowledged that it represents and important public health problem and economic burden. A recent meta-analysis of studies in the UK estimated that 43% of adults reported chronic pain (Fayez et al, 2016). Pain also imposes an economic burden with, as an example, persons with chronic low back pain in the UK having double the healthcare costs (~£1000 per annum) compared to matched persons without, excess costs attributed to primary care, secondary care and pain relief medications (Hong et al, 2013). Internationally the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project demonstrated that musculoskeletal disorders (of which back and neck pain are the main contributors) are now the leading cause of years lived with disability internationally ( ).

Despite this, however, chronic pain has had a low profile with respect to the policy agenda (Goldberg 2011). Pain does not feature on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals nor does chronic pain represent a priority for the World Health Organisation. Why is that? What factors have contributed to pain remaining low on global policy agendas? What strategies could be employed by academics and institutions to help chronic pain become a priority for local, national and global policymakers. Could chronic pain become a public health priority? If not, why and if so, what would need to change to make this happen?

This PhD will address issues around chronic pain as a public health priority. It will be shaped by the student, but is envisaged, in outline, that it would address the following issues:
• What evidence exists on factors which contribute to health conditions becoming a public health priority
• To what extent is chronic pain a public health priority at a local, national and international level?
• What specific strategies could aid chronic pain to become a public health priority, and how could these be supported by existing or new evidence?

The methods to be used in the PhD will involve literature reviews of research and policy evidence and primary data collection through interviews and observations of meetings. Data is likely to be collected from patients with chronic pain, health professionals, health administrators and policy makers. The analyses involved will be both quantitative and qualitative, synthesising the evidence available to come up with specific recommendations for researchers and practitioners. The PhD could focus on ongoing chronic pain research, examining how the research and policy actors engage in debates about opportunities, strategies and evidence needed to help priories chronic pain. Potential impacts of the research include specific recommendations for chronic pain researchers on how to increase their policy impact; a case study describing policy impact creation; the stimulation of a global working group aiming to agree definitions and a strategy to support chronic pain policies; and empirical and theoretical contributions to the wider debates about evidence use and policy impact.

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of APPLIED HEALTH SCIENCE. Formal applications can be completed online: You should apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Health Science, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct person for processing.


Candidates should contact the lead supervisor to discuss the project in advance of submitting an application, as supervisors will be expected to provide a letter of support for suitable applicants. Candidates will be informed after the application deadline if they have been shortlisted for interview.

Funding Notes

This project is part of a competition funded by the Institute of Applied Health Sciences. Full funding is available to UK/EU candidates only. Overseas candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £16,625 per annum).

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a First Class Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.


Fayaz A, Croft P, Langford RM, Donaldson LJ, Jones GT. Prevalence of chronic pain in the UK: a systematic review and meta-analysis of population studies. BMJ Open. 2016 Jun 20;6(6):e010364.

Hong J, Reed C, Novick D, Happich M. Costs associated with treatment of chronic low back pain: an analysis of the UK General Practice Research Database. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2013 Jan 1;38(1):75-82.

Goldberg, D.S., McGee, S.J. Pain as a global public health priority. BMC Public Health. 2011; 11(1):770.


Blyth FM, Briggs AM, Schneider CH, Hoy DG, March LM. The Global Burden of Musculoskeletal Pain-Where to From Here? Am J Public Health. 2019 Jan;109(1):35-40.

Phillips, C., Main, C., Buck, R., Aylward, M., Wynne-Jones, G.,Farr, A., 2008. Prioritising pain in policy making: the need for a whole systems perspective. Health policy. 2008; 88(2-3):166-175.

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