Access to Migraine Treatment — [David Mundell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 20 March 2024.

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Photo of Dehenna Davison Dehenna Davison Conservative, Bishop Auckland 9:30, 20 March 2024

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for passing on Lisa’s remarks. She is one of millions in the country living with this condition and experiencing the debilitating effects. I hope that, following today’s debate, we will see improved access to treatment. I ask my hon. Friend please to pass that on to Lisa.

As I said, there are 10,000 people in every constituency but no debates in Parliament since the 1960s. I make special mention of Lord Londesborough for raising a question on migraine in the other place in October last year, rightly arguing that this invisible disability deserves much greater priority and resourcing across the NHS.

It is 60 years since the last parliamentary debate. Those suffering the crippling effects of migraine alone might feel that, even now after all that time, little progress has been made, but I am here to be optimistic. New treatments, such as CGRP blockers, are proving highly effective for many migraine patients, helping to reduce the severity, longevity and frequency of migraine attacks. For many taking CGRP blockers, they are often called a lifeline. One patient responded to our survey, saying that CGRP injections have “virtually eradicated my migraines”.

Although new effective treatments are being developed, they are not easy to access through the NHS. Across today’s debate, I will outline the key difficulties being faced by patients at each stage of the migraine journey, and will outline possible solutions to improving access to treatments and, ultimately, the lives of migraine patients. That is something that I think we can all agree is very much beyond politics.

Let us start with the basics and discuss what it is like to live with migraine. We had an example from Lisa, the constituent of my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone. When experiencing a migraine attack, common symptoms can include a severe headache; nausea and/or vomiting; visual disturbance, such as blurry vision, spots of light or zig-zag lines; sensitivity to light and sound; an inability to concentrate and brain fog; difficulties forming words, which is not helpful in this place; and fatigue.

Interestingly, I had experienced migraine for years before I recognised some of the symptoms linked to it. I recall sitting at home reading “Managing Your Migraine” by Dr Katy Munro last autumn, with a coloured pen in hand, underlining all the symptoms that I experience when I get a migraine attack; and there were eight different symptoms. A severe attack can leave sufferers bed-bound in agony, with curtains closed, cowering in the darkness, unable to eat, unable to think clearly, and utterly miserable. Attacks can be completely debilitating, and I have experienced my fair share of them.

I am not the only hon. Member who lives with migraine. Wayne David is unable to attend today but asked me to read his testimony in his absence. He said:

“I have suffered from migraine since I was a young man. It used to be extremely debilitating, but in recent years I have been able to minimise significantly the severity and frequency of attacks. There are so many different causes and triggers of migraine. For me, it is stress related. Manage my stress and I can usually manage my migraine.”

David Duguid said:

“I first experienced migraine in my early teenage years, when I regularly had to be excused from school. I remember being particularly distressed at the disorientation and confusion, as well as the extreme headache and nausea, of course. Migraines have become no less debilitating as I have grown into adulthood but they have become less frequent, and I generally know what to expect when symptoms start, and what medication to take. Like my father before me, I now watch my 12-year-old son experiencing his first migraines and the confusion it brings. As much as I can empathise with my son, I am only too aware of how little I can do to relieve his distress.”

The frequency of migraine attacks can vary. Some people will experience a small number of attacks over a lifetime, some one or two a month, but for others migraine can become chronic, meaning that headache is present more than 15 days a month, with at least eight of those having other migraine symptoms. That is the condition that I live with, as do around a million other people in the UK. For me, that means that I have a headache all day, every single day. Although they vary in severity, they are none the less draining, particularly on the many days when they are coupled with other migraine symptoms.

Recently, I spoke to Mollie Campbell, a brilliant young woman who like me lives with chronic migraine. Her journey helps to outline some of the difficulties that patients face in accessing treatment. In her own words, she remembers her first attack vividly:

“on a normal day, I woke up in agonising pain in my eye, eyebrow, and head. When I say ‘pain’, I mean torturous and excruciating pain, the kind that makes you roll around on the floor sobbing in agony.”

Mollie sought help from her GP, but it took months, several misdiagnoses, a number of unsuitable drugs being prescribed and, eventually, her paying to access a scan privately before she was eventually diagnosed with chronic migraine. Unfortunately, Mollie’s story is not uncommon. It can take patients months, if not years, to get a diagnosis.

A commonly expressed sentiment is that GPs do not always take the condition of migraine seriously. One patient who responded to our survey explained that they waited

“five and a half years from first presenting to a doctor taking them seriously and investigating”.

Another said that

“it took 19 years to be diagnosed with migraines”,

and another:

“Doctors just don’t seem to know or understand enough about it and I have been fobbed off a lot.”