Calls for a men’s health strategy in England

Informed by the Men’s Health Forum charity campaign calling for a UK-wide strategy for men’s health, an all-party parliamentary group on issues affecting men and boys concluded in their February 2022 report that such a strategy should be included in the government’s white paper on health disparities in England.

The group defined a men’s health strategy as “a holistic, evidence-based, positive and gender-informed approach to men’s health across their life course. 

“The strategy would look to address and help prevent the range of underlying causes and barriers that have a negative impact on men’s health.”

It was announced in January 2023 however, that the long-awaited white paper was not going to be published, to the disappointment of The Health Foundation and others. 

Gwen Nightingale and Katherine Merrifield said in The Health Foundation blog: “Particularly when we know that good health remains out of reach for far too many people in the UK, that deep inequalities in health between the poorest and wealthiest are widening, and that failing to address poor health and economic inactivity will slow the economic recovery the nation desperately needs.”

Although the health disparities white paper has been abandoned, a parliamentary inquiry into men’s health is underway and closed for submissions of evidence in September 2023.

The inquiry is exploring the factors driving the difference in life expectancy for men, compared with women. It is consistently lower for men and fell in 2020.

The Men’s Health Forum has highlighted some of the challenges relating to health outcomes among men:  

  • In the UK, one man in five dies before he reaches the age of 65. More than two in five men die before the age of 75
  • Three-quarters of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease are among men 
  • Men have a 37% higher risk of dying from cancer and a 67% higher chance of dying from cancers that affect both men and women 
  • Four in five suicides are by men – suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35 and there has been a sharp increase in the rate among men aged 35-64.
Four in five suicides are committed by men. Source: The Men's Health Forum
Credit: Daniel Tison

A parliamentary postnote said future research will identify the factors contributing to the health inequalities experienced by men and analyse the policy interventions in healthcare.

The briefing will also reflect on the outcomes and interventions to meet the health needs of different groups of men, as well as other populations, including trans and non-binary communities.

“In the UK, there is growing evidence of inequity in men’s health outcomes for many physical and mental health conditions,” the post said.

It gave examples of the disparities of incidence rates between men and women for certain health issues such as non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, certain cancers, type-2 diabetes and obesity.

The note added: “There is also data indicating a higher prevalence of poor mental health outcomes amongst men, notably suicide. Other areas of concern include infectious disease, particularly relating to men’s sexual health.”

It also acknowledged that the causes of inequities in men’s health are thought to be numerous, complex and systemic. 

The all-party parliamentary group on issues affecting men and boys said in their February 2022 report

“A men’s health strategy would benefit not just men and boys themselves; it would benefit women and girls who they share their lives and society with.

“It would also reduce demand/costs on the health system and economic productivity.

“Essentially a men’s health strategy would lead to a happier, healthier and more productive society for all. It is a moral issue, not just a health issue.”

The Department of Health and Social Care is working on a major conditions strategy and published an interim summary of progress in September.

The report will consider disparities in health outcomes, including “men-specific issues, and take a life course approach to health, considering wider determinants of health”.

However, the interim report has been critiqued by the NHS Confederation.

It said the framework for the major conditions strategy “does not go far enough to ‘create a healthy society’ beyond the role of the NHS.

“To achieve its aims, the final strategy must make use of regulation and cross-government commitments to improve population health and reduce inequalities.”

News reporter & Health editor | + posts

Social infrastructure strategic planner, training for the NCTJ News Journalism qualification and publishing local news stories via the Kingston Courier.

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