Novel device enables patients to control own pain relief

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Patients undergoing short medical procedures can now administer their own pain relief thanks to a small handheld inhaler.

Green whistle inhaler

The novel pain control method has been introduced at the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton and has completely eliminated the need for anaesthetic or intravenous drugs for patients using it.

Commonly known as a green whistle, the Penthrox inhaler contains a small amount of Methoxyflurane gas which patients self-administer by breathing through the device.

The green whistle, which has also been introduced at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, has a number of benefits as it:

  • enables patients to instantly control the level of pain relief they receive;
  • causes no after side effects and therefore speeds up recovery;
  • means patients are not exposed to dangerous drugs and do not need a cannula;
  • reduces cost by freeing up an anaesthetist to work on another theatre list and reducing the amount of time patients need to spend in a hospital bed.

The device, which has been used extensively in Australia and New Zealand in pre-hospital emergencies as a very effective painkiller, has been introduced at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust by anaesthetist Gareth Kessell and plastic surgeon Tobian Muir.

Friarage theatre team

It is mainly used for painful procedures that can be carried out in under an hour and has already benefited more than 170 patients undergoing either Bleomycin treatment for vascular birthmarks or electro-chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

Patients are supported to use the inhaler by anaesthetic nurse practitioners who have undergone specialist training to enable them to take on this enhanced role.

Laura Dunn is currently receiving Bleomycin injections at the Friarage for a venous malformation in her leg. The 31-year-old from Darlington said it is much easier than having an anaesthetic.

Laura Dunn

Laura Dunn

“I have had both local and general anaesthetic before in the past, so you are not only getting over the procedure but also the side effects of the anaesthetic. With the whistle you don’t get any of that at all.

“Once you have finished you just take a couple of deep breaths without the whistle and you are back to normal – there’s no grogginess and no headaches. Plus you are in control completely as to how much you need.”

Mr Muir said: “The success rate is phenomenal at 98% and the feedback from patients has been really positive.

“It’s brilliant for patients because it offers quicker pain relief and they can increase or decrease it instantly – they are in power!

“It is fantastic that the Friarage has become one of the first hospitals in the country to use this for procedures on such a big scale.

“And this is a global first – never before has a Penthrox inhaler been used as an alternative to sedation or a general anaesthetic in patients with birthmarks.

“I think a lot of other surgeons, departments and hospitals could potentially benefit from this.”