Resource gaps hit migraine sufferers – GPs training, specialist nurses and research funds need urgent boost

Guest blog post from Wendy Thomas, Chief Executive, The Migraine Trust. This week is Migrane Awareness Week to find out more information see The Migraine Trust’s website

Large numbers of Britons who suffer from migraine lack vital support through inadequate training for GPs, too few specialist nurses and low government funds to aid research on the condition. This warning comes today from the leading charity The Migraine Trust. It raised the alert before Migraine Awareness Week started on Sunday.

According to the Department of Health, migraine in the UK hits eight million people, representing Britain’s most common long-term neurological condition. About one in five women and around one in twelve men are migraine sufferers.  In addition, due to the condition, 25 million work and school hours are lost each year. The level of sufferers is similar to the combined numbers of those with diabetes, epilepsy and asthma.

But family doctors receive just one hour’s training on migraine and headache. The UK has only 12 headache specialist nurses, including a single one in Scotland, with none in Wales or northern Ireland. And Britain spends a modest £1 million a year on migraine research.

Dr David Kernick, clinical champion for headache with the Royal College of General Practitioners, and lead research GP at the St Thomas Medical Group in Exeter, says: “There is a substantial unmet need in adults and children with migraine. General practice is the setting where this problem should be identified and managed. Effective low-cost, evidence-based interventions for migraine are available. Yet GPs find headache difficult to diagnose and manage effectively.Improving the management of migraine in primary care could significantly reduce the burden of this problem.”

Pharmaceutical company worker Kim Slinar cites her GP’s inadequate training for the months of pain she faced until her firm’s medical insurance at last brought a private diagnosis.

Kim, 31, who lives in Hythe Park Road, Egham, in Surrey, said: “Headaches were ruining life for me and a career. But my GP fobbed me off with pills that proved little help with my struggle to cope. Luckily I could access independent care, or the suffering would have lasted even longer.”

Migraine sufferers have deluged the trust with testimonies on how insufficient training for family doctors and too few specialist nurses have affected them. As these links shows:

Anna Andreou, research fellow at London’s Imperial College, says: “Migraine is among the most disabling conditions, with huge costs to society and the country’s economy. Despite the lack of specific treatment for all sufferers, headache research is currently missing from the UK’s medical research funding agenda. The lack of funding that could attract migraine experts to academic institutions restrains Britain from playing a leading role in headache science developments. Headache research should be present in all medical schools and research centres. And there is an urgent need for state aid that could support millions of migraine sufferers.” 

During Migraine Awareness Week a video produced by the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi will help the trust’s alert that the condition is more than just a bad headache. The 80-second film – which the agency made in a major event organised by YouTube and Google – shows how many sufferers feel, with a model head attacked by different objects, such as a kettle of boiling water, a hammer and nails, a hot iron and knives

Too many migraine sufferers lack crucial assistance because of GPs’ inadequate training, too few specialist nurses and too little government money for research. We hope our call for change and the video will help win that support.

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