14th September 2015

Shock poll fuels migraine crisis – NHS bosses warned to boost aid for GPs

Findings from a YouGov poll

Fifteen months since politicians urged more headache education for family doctors, NHS chiefs today face heavy pressure, as sufferers cite GPs’ low awareness and a new poll shows only a small minority of people knows they receive little training.

This alert, from the charity The Migraine Trust, comes amid YouGov evidence that brings scant comfort for the eight million sufferers facing a condition that costs the UK economy a staggering £7 billion a year in lost production.

The poll also reveals a disturbing lack of public awareness on how many Britons experience migraine, its economic price, the low number of specialist headache nurses and the wide range of disabling symptoms that hit sufferers.

YouGov interviewed more than 2,000 people in Great Britain for the poll.

Little more than one in seven (14%) thought GPs receive just between three and five hours training on migraine and headache during their time at medical school – the real amount is four hours. Only eight per cent thought this in the West Midlands, 11% in the North West, and Wales, and 12% in the North East, while people fared best in the East Midlands and the South West  (17%), besides Scotland  and London (16%).

The Migraine Trust – which cites large numbers of migraine sufferers dissatisfied with family doctors’ treatment – stresses that NHS extended headache and migraine training for GPs must be prioritised.

It points out that four per cent of all UK adults – around two million – consult a GP each year for headache and migraine.

But the lack of adequate training, starting at undergraduate level, means that many GPs are often ill-equipped to identify, diagnose and manage migraine in patients.

Migraine sufferer Katie Campbell, a 28-year-old executive assistant for a technology company, felt dissatisfied with her GP’s information about the condition, though now experiences fewer attacks through daily medication.

Katie, who lives in Shore Road, Hackney, said: “I work full time, but must stop when migraine strikes. Increased headache training for GPs might help migraine sufferers. It could enable more doctors to improve our treatment.”

In June last year a report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Primary Headache Disorders made sweeping recommendations to improve provision, including better training for primary care health professionals.

The report indicated that the period 2012-13 saw over 19,000 emergency admissions for migraine and headache disorders –12 per cent more than the previous year.

According to the poll, more than one in three people (36%) underestimates Britain’s eight million migraine sufferers, with the figure rising to 43% in Scotland, 40% in the South West, and 39% in the East Midlands and London.

Only three per cent  overall came nearest to knowing the 18 million annual working days lost in the UK through migraine. The figure increased to five per cent among Londoners and those in Eastern England, but dropped to two per cent in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, West Midlands, the South East, the South West and Wales.

Just seven per cent thought Britain has only between 21 and 50 specialist nurses on headache disorders, including migraine – 23 is the actual number. This dropped to three per cent in the North West, and five per cent in the South East, the West Midlands and the North East, but climbed to 12 per cent in the East Midlands and Wales, 10% in the South West, and eight per cent in Eastern England.

Many lack awareness on migraine sufferers’ likely symptoms:

  • food cravings (96% unaware)
  • muscle weakness (82%)
  • fear and confusion (81%)
  • lost appetite (67%)
  • double vision (38%)
  • dizziness (33%)
  • seeing coloured spots or flashing lights (32%)
  • nausea (23%)

One in ten people believes migraine is just a headache, with the proportion rising to 16% among 18-24-year-olds, and 14% among men and in the South West.

Wendy Thomas, chief executive at The Migraine Trust, said:  “This poll raises concern for migraine sufferers, with inadequate headache education for GPs and too few specialist nurses, matched by low public awareness of a condition more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. It is time the NHS acted on the all-party group’s proposals.”

Peter Goadsby, a trustee of the charity, professor of neurology at King’s College London and chair of the British Association for the Study of Headache, said: “The ratio of neurologists to population here is up to 10 times lower than elsewhere in Europe. Adequate numbers of family doctors trained in headache disorders could ease pressure on routine GPs and A&E units. Moreover, existing specialist headache clinics need development, with better resources for GPs with special interests.”


Katie Campbell, other migraine sufferers, and experts are available for interview. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,080 adults. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).


Paul Collins (The Migraine Trust) 07402 742593 or 07703 605784

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