The multidisciplinary KKH Children’s Pain Management Clinic is the region and Singapore’s only service that is dedicated to helping children manage chronic pain. PHOTO: KKH

SINGAPORE - As a 15-year-old, Ms Ng Siew Ting experienced bouts of lower back pain that were so intense that she missed many weeks of school because she could not sit for long or walk.

Doctors never found the reason for it, but the medical team at the Children’s Pain Management Clinic taught her how to cope with and manage the pain.

“I have come to accept that it is part of me. I no longer panic because I know it will go away. The pain and I have learnt to coexist,” said Ms Ng, who was referred to the clinic in 2017 and is now 21 years old.

The clinic is a department under KK Women’s and Children's Hospital (KKH), which over the years has handled numerous cases of children with chronic pain.

In March this year, it became the first medical institution outside of the United States and Canada to be recognised as a ChildKind Hospital - an endorsement by the international certification organisation, ChildKind International.

The certification recognises the hospital for its excellence in management of children’s pain and promotion of pain education, KKH said in a media briefing on Tuesday (May 31).

The hospital joins the ranks of 11 renowned paediatric healthcare institutions in North America such as Boston Children’s Hospital.

Dr Serene Lim, a senior consultant in the department of paediatric anaesthesia in KKH, said chronic pain persists beyond the expected time of healing and can happen at any age.

“Pain affects everyone including newborns. If unaddressed, pain can cause long-term emotional and psychological after-effects,” she said.

To mitigate this, KKH utilises “non-pharmacological options such as art, music or play therapy, pain education, and building resilience”, she added.

Ms Ng, now an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, said she consulted doctors at another hospital before seeking a second opinion at KKH.

“Back then, I was at KKH about once a week. The pain got so bad, I was unable to study, and with my O-level examinations round the corner, it was immensely stressful.”

With the help of a doctor, psychologist, physiotherapist, pain nurse and an occupational therapist, Ms Ng’s pain gradually improved.

She has now been discharged from KKH and is with Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where she sees her pain doctor once every six months.

Ms Ng has learnt to manage this pain and turns to painkillers and other medications only as a last resort.

The Children’s Pain Management Clinic was set up in 2005 to manage challenging and complex chronic pain in an outpatient setting. It was the first in Singapore and in the region.

It came before the hospital set up a multidisciplinary pain committee in 2014 to help children cope with and manage pain.

The committee comprises doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and administrators from over 20 specialities.

International data shows that chronic pain affects up to 40 per cent of children up to 18 years old, and it can significantly impact a child’s daily functioning, causing difficulties with sleep, school attendance, mood and engagement in family routines and hobbies.

In Singapore, the clinic saw about 130 cases in 2021, double that in 2019.

Affected children tend to withdraw from social situations and feel frustrated, isolated, and misunderstood, studies show.

Professor Alex Sia, chief executive officer of KKH said: “We understand how pain can affect a child, their caregiver and family, which is why we place pain management as a priority.”

He added that the ChildKind certification is a testament to the commitment and hard work of the team.

Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Reproduced with permission.