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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:32 am on 20 March 2024.

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Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 10:32, 20 March 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Mundell.

I start by thanking my hon. Friend Dehenna Davison for securing this very important debate. I know that she has long been a champion for those living with migraine, and that her own ongoing struggle with chronic migraine, which she talked about, made it difficult, if not impossible, on some days to keep up with the demands of her ministerial role. Since leaving that role she has continued to shine a light on the impact of migraine at work and on what it means to live with migraine.

I also pay tribute to the outstanding charities that support the estimated 10 million people in the UK who live with migraine. For example, the Migraine Trust does fantastic work in empowering, informing and supporting patients, and in driving improvements in treatment and care.

I thank my right hon. Friends the Members for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) and for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone, and the hon. Members for South Antrim (Paul Girvan), for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell), for Midlothian (Owen Thompson), for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) and for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) for their contributions to the debate. In those contributions, almost all right hon. and hon. Members talked about the stigma around migraine, with many setting out their own personal experiences of it. We all know that awareness is key to addressing discrimination, so I very much welcome each and every contribution to this morning’s debate.

Migraine is one of the most common neurological conditions, affecting about 10 million people in the UK, yet in this House we very rarely speak about it and its impact. Many of us have first-hand experience of migraine, or at least some insight into the enormously debilitating effect that it can have on people living with it. Indeed, my own sister, Andrea Stephenson, who I know you know, Mr Mundell, and who many other Members may know, suffers from migraine and I have seen the impact that it has had on her over the years.

As we have heard this morning, migraine is a severe and painful long-term health condition and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland so eloquently said, it is so much more than just a really bad headache. Anyone who lives with migraine knows that it can have a very significant and negative impact on quality of life. Perhaps the cruellest aspect of the condition is its ability to strike with little or no warning, disrupting people’s ability to perform even the most basic daily tasks. Migraine symptoms can last for days, affecting all aspects of life, including family and work life and the ability to engage in social activities. Even between attacks, migraine can impact on quality of life, especially when people try to limit daily activities to prevent another migraine.

Although the human cost is important—it is the most important factor—it is worth reflecting on the economic cost, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire set out so well in their speeches. That is why timely access to appropriate and effective care and treatment is so important. Accurate, timely diagnosis can ensure that people can access migraine treatments as early as possible, helping them to get the care that they need to treat attacks when they strike and prevent future ones. There is no specific test to diagnose migraines; for an accurate diagnosis, GPs must identify a pattern of recurring headaches along with the other associated symptoms. Migraines can be unpredictable, sometimes occurring without the other symptoms normally associated with the condition, so obtaining an accurate diagnosis can take some time.

The NICE guidelines on headaches and the diagnosis and management of headaches in young people and adults, last updated in December 2021, set out best practice for healthcare professionals in the care, treatment and support of people who suffer from headaches, including migraine. They aim to improve the recognition and management of headaches and migraine with more targeted treatments to improve the quality of life for people with headaches and reduce unnecessary investigations. NICE has also produced a clinical knowledge summary on migraine. Clinical knowledge summaries are concise, accessible summaries of the current evidence for primary care professionals, focusing on the most common and significant presentations in primary care. They give trusted information to support safe decision making and improve standards of patient care.

The usual treatment approaches to migraine are designed to either stop or prevent attacks. Treatment for acute migraine includes medications such as analgesics, triptans and antiemetics. Treatments to stop or reduce the frequency of migraine attacks include medications such as beta blockers, tricyclic antidepressants and anti-epileptics. We are committed to supporting timely and consistent access to new, effective medicines for NHS patients, so I am pleased that in October 2023, NICE published technology appraisal guidance recommending Rimegepant for the acute treatment of migraine. Rimegepant is recommended where patients have tried at least two triptans but they did not work well enough; where patients cannot take triptans or where they were not tolerated; or where other medication has been tried but did not work well enough. In separate guidance, last year NICE also recommended Rimegepant as an option for preventing episodic migraine in adults where at least three previous preventive treatments have failed, opening a way for 145,000 people in England to choose that option.