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Let’s talk about men’s health


Let’s talk about men’s health

One in five men in the UK dies before the age of 65 but community pharmacies can play a key prevention role and prolong lives. Victoria Goldman explains…


In November last year, for International Men’s Day, the government announced it will be appointing a Men’s Health Ambassador and establishing a Men’s Health Taskforce to increase awareness of certain conditions and health needs faced by men and improve men’s engagement with health services.

According to the UK Parliament POSTbrief published in December 2023, on average in the UK, women live almost four years longer than men. Poor men’s health outcomes may be caused by socio-economic factors (such as income, education and employment), personal characteristics (including disability, ethnicity and sexuality), behavioural factors (including smoking, alcohol and physical activity) and mental health.

In July 2023, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee (HCHSCC) launched an inquiry into men’s physical and mental health outcomes. “Some aspects of men’s health are just too rarely talked about, yet it’s clear there are a number of areas where the outcomes for men’s health should be a cause for concern, particularly in heart disease and cancer,” says HCHSCC chair Steve Brine.

“It may be that men just don’t come forward with health issues, perhaps they think some things are too embarrassing to talk about. We’ll be looking at what needs to be done, whether it’s about how to access health services or getting more men to come forward for screening, for example.”


Men’s health disparities

Statistics from the Men’s Health Forum show that one man in five in the UK dies before the age of 65. Three-quarters of premature deaths from heart disease are male, three-quarters of suicides are male, and men are 43 percent more likely to die from cancer.

According to the government in January 2024, several major condition areas – including cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and chronic kidney diseases – have higher mortality rates for men than women. Men are also more likely to be overweight or obese and engage in harmful behaviours such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Issues Affecting Men and Boys launched its ‘A Case for a Men’s Health Strategy’ report in February 2022. This report revealed that men are 32 percent less likely than women to visit the doctor – particularly during working age. In addition to this, men make up 76 percent of premature deaths from heart disease and most of those due to type 2 diabetes, yet fewer men than women have NHS Health Checks, despite its effectiveness in detecting both conditions.

While men are more likely to die from suicide, men suffering from common mental disorders are less likely than women to access and receive treatment through NHS talking therapies. Services for conditions that affect predominantly women (such as breast cancer or osteoporosis) don’t cater for men, and there are limited services to support the management of male-specific diseases such as testicular and prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK and has no screening programme. It doesn’t usually cause in the early stages and may be more difficult to treat once it’s been diagnosed. In November 2023, the government announced funding for a new prostate cancer screening trial called TRANSFORM, with the target of one in 10 participants being of black ethnic background. Men from black ethnic groups are twice as likely to be diagnosed with and die from prostate cancer in England than their white counterparts.


Community awareness

According to the UK Parliament POSTBrief, evidence suggests that some community-based interventions are effective at engaging with certain groups of men and improving individual health and wellbeing. However, a lack of understanding or focus on male help-seeking behaviour and communications leads to one-size-fits-all campaigns.

“Pharmacy staff should approach conversations with sensitivity and empathy,” says Jacquie Lee, medication safety officer & information pharmacist at Numark Pharmacy, “while upholding the highest standards of patient confidentiality, cultivating an atmosphere of trust where men feel secure discussing their most private health concerns. Beyond the counter, pharmacists are an important channel in delivering community awareness campaigns, challenging societal stigmas, and promoting proactive care through face-to-face interactions.”


Direct approach

Three key areas in which community pharmacies could play an important role to improve men’s health outcomes are weight management, erectile dysfunction and blood pressure monitoring. “With the blood pressure check service now well-established, we expect pharmacies will play a bigger role in monitoring high blood pressure,” says Malcolm Harrison, chief executive of the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA).

“We know that men are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease at an earlier age than women. An unhealthy diet can lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressure and contribute to weight gain. Pharmacists in the community are well placed to provide advice to men on how to improve their diet and lose weight.

According to government statistics in May 2023, in 2021 to 2022, 69.1 percent of men were overweight or living with obesity compared with 58.4 percent of women. Research by the University of Essex and Healthwatch Essex (published in August 2023) found that the sense of support and togetherness in male-only football-based weight management programmes was more important than weight loss as the men’s principal driving force for wanting to attend. This resulted in improved mental health as well as losing weight.

In January 2024, Well Pharmacy joined up with Glen Hoddle to launch the Well Blood Pressure United campaign at the Nottingham Forest versus Arsenal match. Well Pharmacy’s mobile health bus and pharmacists offered free blood pressure checks to fans on their way to the game. A recent poll conducted by Well revealed that male football fans of all ages feel stressed, eat junk food and drink alcohol on match days.

Men aged 45 to 65 are among the most likely to have untreated hypertension, yet just eight percent of men polled said they have had their blood pressure checked.

“We want to raise awareness of men’s health issues by bringing the blood pressure testing to the community through football and opening up awareness and conversations,” says George Sandhu, deputy pharmacy superintendent at Well Pharmacy.

“We want to highlight that community pharmacies can be the first stop for healthcare needs; we are accessible and approachable and men can simply pop in when the mood takes them. It’s no more stressful than popping to the shops for a pint of milk.”

Erectile dysfunction can also cause men distress. Nick Linton, head of UK country operations at Sanofi Consumer Healthcare, says it may be “indicative of underlying physical causes and can negatively impact mental health.”

“Early patient engagement provides an opportunity to make a real difference in men's lives,” he says. “Research shows men are keen to explore solutions and take action to manage their ED and pharmacists are in a unique position to do this. Availability of OTC ED medicines can be a catalyst for men to seek pharmacy consultations.”

He adds: “To encourage men to engage in conversations, pharmacies can make efforts to create a more male-friendly environment. Displaying leaflets or posters on men's sexual health topics can prompt men to seek information and initiate discussions.

“Fostering a friendly and empathetic atmosphere, can help men feel comfortable expressing their concerns and asking questions without fear of judgment or embarrassment. By promoting consultation rooms with clear signage that guarantees privacy and confidentiality, pharmacists can reassure men that their concerns will be treated with respect and sensitivity.”










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