Aside from the heavy emotional and physical costs that migraine attacks entail, there are also the monetary costs that migraine entails. However, in general for migrainers and those close to them the overriding wish to find a cure is a personal one, and more likely to be linked to the emotional or physical side of things – most people in the grip of an attack would tell you that if there was a cure available to get rid of their migraines then they would take it no matter how much it was.
Nevertheless everyone, even those in society who are not affected by migraines and don’t know anyone else who is, should have a vested interest in improving migraine treatment services and reducing the impact of migraine attacks because it has been widely stated that migraines are costing the UK economy over £3 billion every year . Although one report in the Express online even put the figure at over £7 billion.
The NHS currently spends between £20 to 30 million annually on treating migraines. This money is primarily spent on things such as prescription medicines, referrals and specialist treatments and clinics. Some of the other things that it covers include research (although not much, most is privately funded by pharmaceutical companies or charities), and emergency admissions to hospitals. In 2012-13 these admissions for migraine and headache disorders were up by 12% on the previous year and totalled more than 19,000.
The £20 – 30 million amount needed to cover this NHS care sounds like a huge sum, which it is, although when you look at this number in terms of the overall NHS budget spend this figure only accounts for around 0.1% of overall expenditure. Even so, and while there are not set to be any new NHS cuts there are also not set to be any huge budget increases and this is without considering inflation. With a projected funding gap of over £5 billion predicted for 2015-16 this £20 – 30 million is not a number to be taken lightly. Especially when it appears that more people are needing medical help to manage their migraines and so the cost of migraine care looks set to go up and not downSo where does the rest of the cost come from?
A large part of this generally accepted £3 billion total can be attributed to doctor’s visits and the number of working hours lost. Illness from headache conditions results in 20 million days of school and workplace absence, and accounts for 25% of all annual sickness in the manufacturing industry and 20% of annual sick leave under the UK NHS. This loses the economy huge amounts of money. If you cannot go to work due to a migraine then there is clearly going to be a loss of productivity and earnings as a result, but similarly work will also be sacrificed if people need to stay at home to look after a sick partner or child.
These are some direct impacts that result from migraines – sick days due to migraine, and money being needed for headache medications for example, but a major report compiled by an influential group of peers and MPs also took into account the effect that migraines had on moods and social lives. A common problem that stemmed from headache disorders was low self-esteem and depression. Treatment would then be needed to help combat these in addition to treating the migraines themselves which all adds to the cost. Faster diagnosis and better support from the outset would help to reduce these problems and in turn could save the UK large sums of money – not to mention save suffering.
To try and save money the parliamentary report recommended some changes that could be made. Their top recommendations were that more specialist clinics should be set up (at the moment there are 37 and they are not evenly spread across the country), that there should be more trained headache nurses (at the moment the UK has only 12), and that GPs should get more headache training. Specialised headache clinics were a real focus in the report as currently many are only open for a few hours each week and waiting lists can be several months long. The thinking is that if these recommendations are acted upon then services would improve and the strain on A&E departments and routine GP practices would be reduced. The report also calls for a public information campaign to raise headache disorder awareness.
With migraine being the most common neurological condition in the UK, affecting around 1 in 7 people, it’s a problem that should not be ignored. More needs to be done to help the vast numbers of people in the UK affected by the condition. In the short term it march cost a fair bit of money to go about providing the extra training, research and facilities needed, but in the longer term the return on investment, both in terms of money and overall happiness, would be vast.
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