'It's not just a headache': Treatment wait times double and MP quits over migraines

It's migraine awareness week and with wait times for treatment almost doubling in England, the Migraine Trust is urging people to take them more seriously

They can cause nausea, confusion and blurred vision but many pass them off as "just a headache".

This week is migraine awareness week, and with wait times for treatment almost doubling in England, a charity is urging people to take them more seriously.

Just last week, levelling up minister Dehenna Davison announced she resigned from her cabinet role, due to her ongoing battle with chronic migraines.

The illness means she, and more than one million people in England, experience headaches for at least 15 days of the month.

“On a bad-head day, I’d worry that I’d be judged as weak or unreliable for cancelling work commitments, but I also knew that if I turned up and pushed through, I wouldn’t be firing on even one cylinder, let alone all of them," the Bishop Auckland MP said as she quit.

She's teamed up with The Migraine Trust in calling for the “debilitating and stigmatised” condition to be taken seriously by clinicians.

The charity said there should be greater awareness of the pathways that exist for managing migraines, which can cause severe pain as well as nausea, confusion and blurred vision.

One in seven adults, or 10 million people, in the UK are thought to be affected by migraines.

Data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by the Migraine Trust revealed waiting times for patients requiring specialist care for migraines in England have increased from 15 weeks in 2021 to an average of 29 weeks in 2023.

It also claims access to new drugs is being “hindered” by wait times, along with a lack of specialist doctors and nurses.

The Migraine Trust report said there are fewer than 80 GPs specialising in migraine and headaches in the UK.

Robert Music, chief executive of the Migraine Trust, said: “Not only are patients struggling, but poor management of migraine is putting unnecessary additional strain on an already struggling NHS.

“We are seeing rising A&E admissions for migraine across the UK.

"There is a shortage of GPs, consultants and nurses specialising in headache to meet the need that we know exists, and a broad lack of understanding of the condition, meaning patients are not being treated in the right place or at the right time, if at all.”

According to the Migraine Trust, there were 78,080 visits to 42 A&E departments in England in 2021/22, an increase of 32% on the previous year.

Hospital admissions during the period also rose by 21% to 33,562.

Dr Brendan Davies, chairman of the British Association for the Study of Headache and a consultant neurologist at Royal Stoke University Hospital, said: “Migraine is the most common of all the neurological disorders yet is vastly under recognised.

“The time has come for a nationally-agreed educational framework and quality standard for primary care, as we have with other important long-term conditions.

“Health professionals in primary and secondary care must be empowered to effectively recognise and manage migraine, and implement the breakthroughs therapies we now have. This will help reduce the massive impact migraine has on the UK population, in addition to benefiting medical professionals and the economy.”

Dehenna Davison resigned as levelling up minister last week due to chronic migraine Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Ms Davison said: “Migraine affects so many people in the UK and yet awareness of what it really is remains painfully limited.

“No, it is not just a headache – it is a complex condition that can greatly impact individuals and their families every single day.

"We need to improve awareness about the symptoms and challenges of migraine to help improve access to quality treatments and improve the workplace experience.”

Migraine Awareness Week is running from September 24 to September 30.

What is rimegepant - the new migraine treatment?

Publication of the charity’s report comes days after the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommended rimegepant as a treatment for acute migraine.

It is taken as a wafer, which dissolves under the tongue with water.

Then it works by stopping the release of a protein around the brain called calcitonin gene-related peptide.

The latest guidance on rimegepant is expected to benefit about 13,000 people, Nice said, by relieving the symptoms of migraine.

It was also recommended by Nice in July as an option for preventing episodic migraine in adults who have at least four and fewer than 15 attacks per month if “at least” three other treatments have not worked.

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