In 2015-16, the Men’s Health Forum continued to extend its reach and impact despite the difficult financial climate and declining staffing compared to previous years.
We reached more men both directly through our website, manuals and chat services and indirectly through influencing policy and practice and challenging how local health services are delivered. The latter was a major focus for 2015-16 as the organisation drilled down on local data-collection and planning to ensure greater gendersensitivity in both areas.
We remained a key member of the Health and Care Strategic Partner Programme which enables Voluntary and Community Sector organisations like the Forum to work in equal partnership with the Department of Health (DH), NHS England and Public Health England (PHE). This partnership approach is reflected in all aspects of our work with other charities, with local and national government, the NHS and medical professionals, with universities and researchers, and with our donors, funders, sponsors and customers.
In 2015-16, we continued to work to change men’s health policy on a local and national level.
Following the March 2015 launch of our report The gender data deficit in local health, which highlighted that only 18% of local authorities in England adequately collected and used gendered data in their local Joint Strategic Needs Assessments, we launched a follow-up paper Men Behaving Badly? Ten questions council scrutiny can ask about men’s health jointly with the Centre for Public Scrutiny in July 2015. This was designed to help local councillors on health scrutiny committees ensure that their local health systems are as gender-sensitive as they should be. Encouragingly, this is having a real impact and has already been actively used by several local authorities to structure reviews of their public health work for men and drive policy change.
We continued to work on NHS Health Checks. Following our freedom of information (FOI) request on NHS Health Checks in 2014/15, we followed up in 2015-16 with a repeat request to see what progress had been made. The figures remained disappointingly poor. Only 52 out of the 152 Local Authorities in England who replied to our requests in 2015 could tell us what proportion of their health checks were delivered to men. Even though 72 local authorities told us they have programmes in place targeted at men, men remained significantly less likely to take up NHS health checks than women. This remains a priority area of work for us.
We also received the results of an FOI request about local authority weight management programmes. While measurement was better – with 92 of the 128 Local Authorities saying they had Tier 2 services (lifestyle interventions) having gendered data – the gender split was worse. Only 21% of places on Local Authority weight management courses were taken up by men. 47 local authorities said they offered men-only services – and, on average, their level of male participation was marginally better than those that didn’t. There were some positive outcomes from our FOI programme: we’ve since been told that more than one local authority set up a maletargeted weight management programme after being forced to look at their data by our original FOI requests.
Finally, an FOI request identified how many of the 211 English Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) had an identified clinical lead on men’s health. The answer was 2! The picture is little better for women’s health with only 19 CCGs having an identified lead. 33 CCGs said they had targeted programmes or policies to tackle men’s health.
We continued to respond, where appropriate, to national consultations. Our response to the national diabetes prevention programme asking that it closely track gender given the higher incidence of diabetes amongst men proved particularly productive. We are now working in partnership with Diabetes UK, NHS England, Public Health England and the Department of Health on a roundtable to address the issues of diabetes amongst men.
Other activities included:
- Continuing to provide the secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Men’s Health – which was reconstituted following the general election of 2015
- Working with the Race Equality Foundation on a guide to involving voluntary and community sector organisations as part of NHS England’s EDS2 engagement activity
- Leading a roundtable on prevention at the Britain Against Cancer conference
- Leading the Health and Care Strategic Partnership Programme in engaging with the NHS’s National Information Board
- Running a session called “The doctor will see you now” at the South Bank Centre’s Being A Man Festival in December 2015.
In addition to our work on policy, we continued to work on encouraging good practice.
- Building on the launches of How to make weight management services work for men and How to make selfmanagement services work for men in 2014-15, in June we launched a new ‘How To’ guide: How to make mental health services work for men. This took the research evidence from the joint symposium on men’s mental health that we worked on with the Centre for Men’s Health at Leeds Beckett University and the Movember Foundation and turned it into a useful tool for practitioners.
- We were contracted to run a programme on behalf of Public Health England piloting how targeted consultancy, training and support can help local authorities improve the uptake and success of male-targeted weight management programmes. Our team worked closely with Cornwall, Hounslow and North Somerset Councils across the year to help them with marketing and outreach – and to ensure the lessons from our ‘How to’ guide were successfully applied. Encouragingly, the project evaluation concluded that the network meetings we ran, as well as our marketing and strategic support to engage men in weight management services, were recognised by all stakeholders as significant contributions to the programme.
- We continued to roll out our men’s health training programme for commissioners and service providers. Following a trial in Blackpool in April 2015, we continued to develop it through well-attended and highly-rated sessions in London and Middlesbrough and as part of our weight management services support programme.
- We organised the successful conference “Putting men into mental health: new ways of working with men in Somerset” for Somerset County Council in October 2015. It was timed to coincide with World Mental Health Day on 10 October and attended by 117 people from a wide range of local statutory and voluntary organisations. As a follow-up to the conference a Men’s Mental Health Interest Group has been formed to take forward the lessons from the conference and develop a men’s mental health action plan.
The four main ways that we reach men directly are through our website, through our Man MOT online chat service, through Men’s Health Week and through our publications. All of these saw major progress in 2015-16.
The number of people helped by our website in 2015-16 continued to grow strongly – with the number of unique visitors increasing by 58% to 1,121,131. By far the largest component of this traffic is men accessing
men’s health information.
In its final year of funding, our Man MOT online chat and email service also grew strongly – more than trebling usage compared to 2014-15. During the course of the year 1,817 men were helped via online chat and 2,489 by email – with high ratings for both services. A bid was successfully made to the Bupa UK Foundation to extend the text chat and email service focusing on mental health under the banner beatstress.uk.
In August 2015, we started a pilot of a HealthUnlocked discussion forum on men’s health issues to enable men to provide each other with direct peer-to-peer support. After some initial teething troubles, we fully integrated it into the site and by March had 198 members.
Men’s Health Week 2015 had our highest participation from partner organisations ever. We designed it to be prevention-focused challenging men to look after their relationships and wellbeing, not to smoke, to drink sensibly, to be active, to watch their weight and to turn up to their NHS Health Check – giving organisations flexibility to design it around their own needs. Some 725 organisations signed up (over 200 more than in 2014) including Ladbrokes which featured us on their website and in every store in the country. Media coverage was fair – with excellent articles in the Daily Mirror and in regional papers – but less good than in 2014 suggesting that, while a broader theme is good for grassroots participation, a narrower focus is needed to interest the mainstream media.
Men’s Health Week also featured the introduction of a new service with John Ryan as the Men’s Health Forum’s ‘comedy contractor’ – with John delivering men’s health messages in a highly entertaining format to an ever-increasing range of companies and organisations as the year progressed.
We also reached more men with our Man Manuals – increasing sales by a third compared to the previous year. In the spring, we published a new 3rd edition of our Man Manual, triggering a 50% increase in sales of this – our best-selling manual. In the summer, we published a manual for gay men Man To Man in partnership with the gay men’s health charity GMFA which later became our first title on Kindle. In November, we published a new version of Fit For Farming, developed with the farming community and in December, a pioneering publication developed and written by and for trans men, Your Body, Your Health. Three of our new titles were short-listed for the BMA Patient Information Awards 2016. None of this would be possible without our superb editor and writer, Jim Pollard, and our long-term partnership with Haynes Publishing.
Finally, because our research has repeatedly shown the vital role of the workplace in improving men’s health, in 2015-16 we launched an ambitious programme to extend and strengthen our service for occupational health professionals - going beyond manuals to include training programmes and comedy events. This was launched as an integrated programme under the @work name in December 2015 to give easy access to our full range of products and services. This is also only the beginning of the programme and we intend to extend our range to include Toolbox Talks and videos in 2016-17.
Becoming a more robust organisation
We continue to work to strengthen our organisation:
We launched a trustee recruitment scheme in the spring and, after an exhaustive process, recruited three several excellent new trustees enhancing the skill and diversity of the trustee board: Tim Lloyd, Adil Qureshi and Andrew Shanahan.
Men’s Health Forum Scotland, after struggling for some time, wound itself up in February 2016 and, following a resolution of our trustees, we extended our area of operation to replace them. We now operate as the Men’s Health Forum of England, Wales and Scotland.
After maintaining staffing in 2014-15, we had to reduce our headcount towards the end of 2015-16. Colin Penning, the Forum’s first employee, left in June and was replaced by Pieter de Meer in August. We are very grateful for Colin’s enormous contribution over the years. Ed Bevan, who originally joined as an intern before becoming a permanent staff member and leading our work on FOI requests and Men’s Health Week, left us in December. Chris Stein joined us in September 2015 as Man MOT project officer.
As a sign of our intent to practise what we preach, in the autumn, the Forum was awarded the Healthy Workplace Charter at commitment level by Dame Carol Black. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all our staff and associates past and present. Our reputation, achievements and impact are wholly built on their dedication and hard work.
The Challenge Remaining
Despite all our work and our strengthening impact, men’s health across England, Wales and Scotland remains a major challenge:
- On average, more than one in five men is still dying between the ages 16 and 65, and more than two in five before the age of 75 – with death rates amongst men in the poorest areas of the country being even worse.
- Men are still more likely than women to die of circulatory disease and cancer.
- Middle-aged men are twice as likely to have diabetes as women – and twice as likely not to know they have diabetes.
- Three in four suicides are by men – suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 45.
- When it comes to lifestyle, men are more likely than women to: smoke, smoke more cigarettes per day and smoke hand-rolled tobacco; eat too much salt; eat too much red and processed meat; eat too little fruit and too few vegetables; and drink alcohol and drink at hazardous levels.
- Health services are still not effectively engaging with men. Men remain less likely to: attend a general practitioner; attend a NHS Health Check; opt for bowel cancer screening; visit a pharmacy; take a Chlamydia test; and have a dental check-up.
So there is plenty to do. Neither men nor our health services are celebrated for their capacity or propensity to embrace change but the Men’s Health Forum ends 2015-16 well-placed to continue to meet the challenge of encouraging it and of thereby improving health outcomes for men and boys.