A Charity Championing the Management of Chronic Pain


Established over 30 years ago, Pain Association Scotland is a national charity dedicated to delivering self-management courses and monthly groups throughout Scotland, Northumbria and North Wales for those burdened with chronic pain. In October, Sonia Cottom, Director of Pain Association, was recognised in CEO Monthly’s Leadership Excellence programme for her dedication to the cause and company. We spoke to Sonia to find out more about the life-changing work that they do. 

Good leaders are defined by their proactive approach to their work, and indomitable drive to succeed. The best leaders can adapt to overcome challenges, and seek new opportunities for growth, often in extremely competitive environments. These are the qualities that we expect from directors, CEOs and managers all over the world, but they seem to fall short in capturing the scope of Sonia’s responsibilities at Pain Association Scotland. As Director, she has helped to deliver services that have aided in the relief of chronic pain, a severely overlooked area of British Healthcare. As part of her work collaborating with NHS Boards and the Scottish Government, she has helped realign future strategies to help tackle the UK’s chronic pain problem. However, these significant achievements only serve to scratch the surface of Sonia’s work.

To start, Sonia offers a brief overview of her company and their work: “The Association provides self-management models of community-based training and education programmes for people burdened with chronic pain. The intensive courses are provided for both primary and secondary care referrals and the locally monthly groups are not only provided to help people maintain all the skills which they have learned over the courses, but people can also self-refer to the local group in order to access the all-important peer support network.”

As you might expect, patients are truly at the heart of the Association’s service model, as Sonia takes a moment to explain: “Patients are at the centre of everything that we do, and in order to ensure they are provided with the best opportunity in empowering them to be able to manage their chronic pain and they have access to the best treatment pathway, it is imperative they I use the knowledge, evidence and understanding gained to help influence and underpin on-going and future service delivery.”

“Over the years, this has included producing the Association’s first Journal of Chronic Pain and the importance of self-management, contributing evidence to the British Journal of Pain, and the International Journal of Applied Sciences, contributing to the Chronic Pain Policy Coalition – a national call to action in the House of Lords – and taking part in Scottish Government Parliamentary debates and call for evidence sessions.” It is clear that Sonia is fighting constantly to raise awareness across multiple avenues, realising that change needs to occur from the very top to make a difference.

Further, Sonia truly believes that chronic pain needs to be a national priority. It’s management, and potential treatment, have the capacity to affect other sectors on an immense scale. Indeed, as Sonia mentions, self-management leads to a 73% reduction in GP visits, and a 93% improvement in quality of life due to empowering patients to change the locus of control – in other words, the belief that they personally can make a difference to their chronic pain, without it taking control and defining their life. All of this leads to less stress on NHS resources, and, on a wider scope, an improved economy.

Of course, Sonia doesn’t work by herself, and her team provide essential support in securing the overall success of the Association. “They are absolutely key. We are a small team of five and each have different backgrounds and strengths. I will not say that managing their expectations is easy – we need to remain ahead of the game in the way we operate and quite often, when you satisfy your funders and implement the relevant changes, staff can often put up barriers until you highlight the potential benefits and help them realise that you, as a CEO, are on a journey too and potentially out of your comfort zone.”

In her closing comments, Sonia discusses the challenges that she has overcome on her journey to raise awareness of chronic pain as a priority in the UK: “As a charity we work collaboratively with the NHS Chronic Pain services throughout Scotland and we are often met with resistance around “evidence-based medicine”. Commissioning a Third Sector organisation to deliver a non-medical bio-psycho-social model with outcomes continues to be rather a new concept to the NHS, and we have had many obstacles to overcome along the way. The NHS has a tendency to suffer from institutional hegemony, holding onto ideas – there is the common assumption that only medical models are good for patients and they fail to listen to evidence which proves otherwise, even when it is thrust in front of them. There is a battle for acceptance.”

Finally, when it comes to the future of Pain Association Scotland: “My vision is to increase the collaborative work with Healthcare Professionals where my focus will be to ensure that the Association continues to identify where we can provide added value to Health Boards, helping them achieve their chronic pain wait time initiatives as well as looking for opportunities for service improvement and delivery.  Having a strategy is great, but the organisation needs to be open to change and be able to adapt and remain fluid. Ultimately, I want to lead the Association in implementing better patient pathways to ensure patients have better and easier access to self-management at a much earlier stage of their journey.”

Company Details 

Contact: Sonia Cottam

Company: Pain Association Scotland

Address: Suite D, Moncrieffe Business Centre, Friarton Road, Perth, PH2 8DG, United Kingdom

Website: www.painassociation.com

Telephone: 0800 783 6059

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