It’s time for a men’s health strategy
One of my ambitions when becoming a Member of Parliament in 2019 was to try and make a positive difference, especially in areas I felt there was little political focus, but where there should be.
It was one of the reasons that, when the opportunity arose, I wanted to chair this newly formed All-Party Parliamentary Group, as I felt there were issues that affect men and boys which needed exploring further.
One such area that my APPG colleagues and I felt was important to take a serious look at was on men and boys’ health and whether we should have an overarching strategy. Our new report, “The Case for a Men’s Health Strategy: For a Healthier, Happier and a More Productive Society for All”, concludes that we do need such a strategy.
Listening to evidence from national and international men’s health experts, there are serious challenges in men and boys’ health. Whether that is in terms of tackling mental health issues such as suicide, health conditions such as cancer, or unhealthy lifestyles underpinned by obesity and alcohol.
For example, nearly one in five men do not live until they are 65, 13 men take their own life every day, and men in some parts of Kensington and Chelsea live 27 years longer than those in some parts of Blackpool.
Improving the health of men and boys would benefit us all
We were told that the current government individual conditions/disease-based approach is not improving men’s health. It is also a different approach than is being taken with respect to women’s health, for which there will be a strategy published soon, which I welcome.
The evidence is clear that a strategy for men would help. It would address and help prevent the range of underlying causes and barriers that have a negative impact on men’s health, while also making the health system more responsive.
Professor Alan White cited the example of men who have breast cancer being sent to visit a women’s clinic and being asked, “where’s your partner?”
The experts set out examples of why a strategy is a better solution. For instance, if we address suicide, alcoholism or obesity as separate issues, we will fail to see that they often result from similar circumstances.
This is the approach that already exists around the world. The World Health Organisation alongside the Irish and Australian governments have strategies. It means one here would not be a radical approach. There is also a head of steam growing for this in the UK due to the campaign being led by the Men’s Health Forum.
Certainly, the point was also made clear that a strategy should not take a deficit-model approach and that the burden for change should not all be placed on the shoulders of men themselves.
Dr John Barry expressed the view that was there was too much focus on labelling the inherent aspects of masculinity and men as being a negative.
It is not the role of the APPG to be prescriptive about the actual detail of a strategy. That is for the government and the health sector working with the experts and specialist charities. Men need to have their say too.
We do make some recommendations, including the need for ministerial accountability, a range of targets and increased funding for inter-disciplinary research.
A men’s health strategy would benefit not just men and boys themselves; it would benefit women and girls with whom they share their lives and society.
We do not live in isolation from each other. Improving the health of men and boys would benefit us all. I am confident that the government will see the logic and the case for moving this forward, just as the APPG has.
Nick Fletcher MP is the Conservative MP for Don Valley and chair of the APPG on Issues Affecting Men and Boys.
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