Patients suffering headaches and disabling migraines will be given better advice and new tools to try and cut more than 16,000 hospital A&E visits every year.
NHS England said the number of hospital admissions for headaches and migraines had risen 14 per cent over the last five years, from 95,548 emergency admissions in 2014-15 to 108,711 in 2018-19.
Around 10 million people aged 15-69 in the UK suffer from migraines, which are classified as a disabling illness, while headaches are amongst the most common neurological reasons for attending A&E.
In total, the NHS spends around £150m a year treating migraines and £250m on care for headache sufferers. The problem also costs the economy £4.4bn a year due to workers taking time off sick.
But NHS bosses say tackling variations in how patients are treated in different areas could cut 16,500 A&E admissions a year.
NHS England is rolling out a new toolkit for GPs, developed with the Neurological Alliance, which aims to help local GPs and hospitals match the best performing areas.
The NHS RightCare Headache and Migraine Toolkit will help improve diagnosis of headache disorders and provide patients with better advice on how to self-manage their conditions.
It will also offer advice to GPs on when best to refer patients to hospital and allow better planning for long-term care and medication.
Hugh McCaughey, NHS national director for improvement, said: “Headaches and migraines can place a heavy burden on sufferers, the NHS and the wider economy, but we know that there are local health services which are doing really well in meeting people’s needs early in the community, and therefore reducing the need for hospital care.
“This initiative will provide all local NHS leaders with the information and proven ideas they need to deliver high-quality headache and migraine services to every communities.”
Practical steps being used in some parts of the country include encouraging patients to use headache diaries to record the frequency and pattern of their attacks.
Those who need long-term care should also be given expert advice on avoiding attacks, including the risks and signs of medication overuse, as well as the chance to develop a personalised care plan.
The rollout of the new toolkit follows the commitment last year to fund access to a hi-tech device that can “zap” away “cluster” headaches.
The handheld GammaCore device is being made available on prescription for the one in 20 people who do not respond to traditional treatments such as painkillers, oxygen or anticonvulsant medication.
The NHS-funded device can be carried around and, when someone feels like an attack is on its way, placed on the neck where it stimulates the vagus nerve, which can lead to a reduction of pain.