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Men sitting on long-term health timebomb, says survey

11 June 2007

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Fear of visiting a doctor could be putting the health of more than 3.5 million men in the UK at risk, according to a survey by The Men’s Health Forum in association with Royal Mail.

The survey also found one in 10 men admits to avoiding seeking help from a health professional because they are scared it might end in a hospital visit. Moreover, an additional 10% would rather stick their head in the sand to avoid the embarrassment of discussing their health issues with a doctor.

The research, conducted for the start of National Men’s Health Week – this year putting the spotlight on men and long-term health conditions – further suggests that nearly 7 million men in the UK (29%) risk not being checked out for a health problem because they find getting in to see their GP too difficult, because of limited opening hours and problems with making an appointment.

Ignoring the underlying symptoms of the most common long-term health conditions is another worrying trait amongst men. Among those surveyed, almost three-quarters didn’t feel it necessary to visit their doctor for unexplained fatigue; two-thirds would not seek advice about persistent wheezing and more than half wouldn’t have unintentional weight loss checked out – symptoms all potentially indicative of more serious, disabling illnesses such as heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and cancer.

In addition, the research shows:

  • 41% claim they needn’t see a doctor for palpitations.
  • Half wouldn’t schedule a visit if they had swollen glands.
  • Around a fifth wouldn’t get an appointment for difficulty or pain passing water or the need to visit the lavatory more regularly.
  • Nearly half see no need for action if experiencing increased thirstiness.
  • Of those men who do have ongoing health issues (a quarter of those surveyed), 42% claim the NHS services they rely on need to perform better, with 16% claiming they are not very good, or even poor.

The research found that 41% of men aren’t careful about their diet, with one in 10 eating no fruit or vegetables at all. Men’s general lifestyle, poor diet and high propensity to be overweight is a key contributor to the development of long term health conditions. Men are also less likely to participate in health improvement programmes in primary care than women – only a quarter of participants in its weight loss programmes are men.

Dr Ian Banks, President of Men’s Health Forum said: “This research supports the day-to-day experience of many health professionals that men in particular, for any number of reasons, tend to delay seeking medical help after the development of symptoms. In the case of 3% of the men we surveyed – representative of nearly three-quarters of a million men nationwide – they don’t turn to anyone at all unless they view the problem as an emergency.

“If men were encouraged to take control and present for treatment earlier, they would avoid the inevitable health time bomb they currently face. Delaying treatment and ignoring symptoms allows serious conditions to develop and increases the likelihood of an emergency trip to A&E.”

“It is also widely believed that once diagnosed with a long-term health condition, male patients tend to find self-care more difficult and in general are less likely to manage their condition effectively. Through National Men’s Health Week, we aim to push health services to deliver advice and treatment in ways more likely to engage men, encouraging them to make better use of services as soon as a problem arises.”

The Men’s Health Forum is releasing a policy paper for National Men’s Health Week calling for health service providers to set targets in respect of individual long-term health conditions within the terms of the Equality Act 2006. The Act places a new statutory duty, the Gender Equality Duty, on all public bodies, requiring the equality of opportunity for men and women in the provision of services as well as services that are tailored to the specific needs of both sexes.

Backed by over 30 other organisations, National Men’s Health Week, the annual event organised by the Men’s Health Forum to raise awareness of – and tackle – the issues affecting the health of men in England and Wales, runs from 11th-17th June. The aim is to develop effective ways of reaching men with long-term health conditions and encourage them to get the necessary health advice and treatment.

Men seeking additional advice can visit the Men’s Health Forum’s consumer website for health guidance and links to further help.

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