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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:58 am on 20 March 2024.

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Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson Conservative, South Staffordshire 9:58, 20 March 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell. I congratulate my hon. Friend Dehenna Davison on securing the debate. It is hard to imagine that this issue has not been discussed in Parliament for such a long time. That is especially true, as she so brilliantly articulated, given its impact on so many people in every one of our constituencies. One in seven people suffer from migraine, and over 1 million suffer from chronic migraine, so the impact on people’s lives and on families is widespread.

I am fortunate that I am not one of those one in seven people, but I have the experience of living with someone who suffers from chronic migraine. When we do not suffer from migraine, we do not understand how debilitating it can be. We cannot comprehend how it can take over someone’s life and stop them doing the things they most want to do—that they get pleasure from, that they live for. When that migraine seizes them, they just cannot do anything. They have to lie in a darkened room and cannot function in the way we expect and hope people can function.

Some of the statistics are concerning and saddening. My hon. Friend touched on the fact that 29% of respondents surveyed by the Migraine Trust had had to move from full-time to part-time work. That impacts not just what they do, but their whole family, what they can expect from life and their ambitions for the future. It can change the course of their lives. It is also concerning that 43% of those surveyed felt that their workplace did not believe them when they came in and said they had had a migraine. My hon. Friend touched on the sense of a migraine being just a bad headache. That is not what people have to live with and what they experience; this is something that seizes them totally and utterly.

We need to be more open about the wider impact that this is having on so many people. The fact that 34% feel discriminated against at work is just so wrong. I hope that by talking about this issue and highlighting its impact on so many people, we can improve understanding, not just among the Minister and those in his Department, but in workplaces right across the country, so that they can adapt and work with people who suffer. In that way, they can ensure that those people can give their best all the time while dealing with something we would not wish anyone to have to deal with.

The loss of days worked has a wider impact on businesses and individuals, so we have to start thinking differently, not just in our hospitals but, as has been touched on, in general practice and pharmacy as well. If people were suffering from a more visible disease or condition, the Government would be not just spending £150 million a year but looking at investing so much more in treatment and research so that they could deal with it. Sadly, migraine is one of those conditions where there is not one single answer that can be rolled out to deal with what every single person is suffering.

More and more people in this country are turning to A&E to be treated for migraine, but it is not the best place for them to be treated; it is not good for the hospitals or the individual. All of us in the room will know how important it is to get the right primary care and the right level of support for people, so that they can prevent migraine as much as possible, because when it has set in, it is so much more difficult to treat.

We also see understaffing. We have 1.1 neurologists per 100,000 people in the United Kingdom, compared with four per 100,000 in France and Germany. In addition, so few GPs have the true specialist knowledge they need to be able to sit down with their patients, talk through this issue and have a proper understanding of the type and range of treatments best suited to that individual. The Minister will talk about how all GPs cover neurological conditions, including migraine, in their basic training. However, with the prevalence of migraine in society, we need general practitioners to have not just a bit of general knowledge on it, but more specialist knowledge, certainly in the larger practices. We can then get those individuals who are unfortunate enough to suffer from migraine the specialist advice, treatment and knowledge they need. As we are so short of neurologists across the NHS, we must ensure that the burden is lifted away from our hospitals.

I would put in a particular plea in relation to pharmacies. It is not always that easy to see a doctor when a migraine is starting to emerge—when the indicators that it is about to hit start to show themselves. That is why it is important to ensure that support and help are widely available. I urge the Minister to go back to his Department and use his characteristic imaginative, thoughtful and revolutionary style to encourage it to be a little more bold and radical in its thinking—to be a little more “action this day”, as opposed to having another report. There are many things that can make a difference to people’s lives very quickly. One is ensuring that we make better use of our pharmacies, thereby lifting the pressure off the wider NHS. Another is ensuring that there is better training for GPs so that larger practices have that specialist knowledge.

I will finish with a final plea. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland mentioned CGRP blockers. We are all aware that there is not a silver bullet to this problem, but they are one of those things that give so many sufferers a little hope that there is something that can actually help. It is awful that people in many parts of the country cannot access them; they are not in a position to get the help they desperately need. I urge the Minister to go back to his Department and to look at CGRP blockers closely, along with the other actions that have been suggested. He could do something transformative for the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, and lift the misery they have to live with far too often.