Men and their health - like leading a horse to water?
The only disadvantage of living up here in the Northeast of England is that it can seem a long way from the hustle and bustle of opinion leaders and policy makers. However, this week it seems like it is the other way around, probably thanks to George Rae, a local GP who is also one of the BBC Street Doctors, and who launched National Men's Health Week (NMHW) yesterday at the Sage, Gateshead (our wonderfully iconic music centre on the banks of the Tyne). This is an annual initiative from the Men's Health Forum, started back in 2002.
This year's focus is on long-term medical conditions (LTMCs) – a policy issue we are all extremely familiar with – think QOF points! If one in three people are living with a LTMC then a good proportion of those are men and these men are reluctant to access healthcare. If that is so then we are failing to reach 50% of our target group. In a recent survey conducted in association with the Royal Mail 10% of respondents admitted to avoiding health professionals as they were fearful that it would result in attendance at hospital. Another 10% would rather take an ostrich approach to symptoms than seek advice (the ignore it and hope it goes away-tactic).
More worrying were further findings that suggested that potentially serious symptoms were being ignored including unexplained fatigue, persistent wheezing and unintentional weight loss. There is clearly a need for the message to get out there that ignoring symptoms is not an option and that early intervention can prevent further ill health.
I'm not sure why men are reluctant to access healthcare advice; the fear factor can not be the only reason. I suspect that health-related messages have not reached them and that gender-specific campaigns might be important. We may also not be making primary care accessible in other ways – after all evening and weekend surgeries are a rarity these days. Maybe we need to take health to them rather than expect them to come to us. For more ideas see www.malehealth.co.uk for local events and Jane DeVille-Almond's article "He who rejects change is the architect of decay" NiP 2007;34:62-4).
So what do you need to do in your practice?
Have you taken a lead in health campaigns targeted at men or boys?
Is PHSE in schools more effective for girls than boys?
How about your partner, is he/she aware of the health issues for men and do they have any ideas as to what might induce men to seek health advice?
Do we need to bribe them?
When it comes to health advice initiatives, we are increasingly taking into account our diverse society, and we can't forget about men.
Tell us what you think and if you have examples of good practice share them with us and with others. Maybe you would like to present your work at a NiP event or write an article for us. All we ask is that you get in touch and tell us what you are up to!