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Men’s Health Strategy

Volume 815: debated on Monday 25 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce a men’s health strategy.

Average male life expectancy is below female life expectancy in the UK, although women spend a greater proportion of their lives in ill health and disability. We are committed to taking action on the range of specific conditions that affect men particularly, including heart disease, liver disease and cancer. Tackling mental health, including suicide, and smoking—both of which are more prevalent in men—are also an important focus.

I thank my noble friend for that fairly comprehensive reply and I take this opportunity to welcome him to the Front Bench and give him every wish for good health during his tenure. The latest ONS estimates show that male life expectancy is falling. What analysis have the Government made of the social determinants of health that contribute to this decline, particularly many men’s lack of close relationships? How will they address the fact that, although loneliness is putting significant pressure on GPs, men are less likely than women to come forward?

I thank my noble friend for his warm welcome and hope that this continues for some time. To answer his question, the Government regularly consider the social determinants of health, especially how they contribute to our life and healthy life expectancy. We have seen growth in life expectancy slow in line with many countries, which is a challenge that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have not yet made a specific assessment of how social determinants drive male life expectancy. On the point about men’s loneliness, since the beginning of the pandemic we have invested £34 million in organisations supporting people who experience loneliness, including men.

My Lords, I am not sure from the first Answer whether the Minister was actually saying that there would be a strategy with resources and led by someone senior in the NHS. He will probably know that the All-Party Group on Issues Affecting Men and Boys has looked into some of the poor health outcomes for men. There is an acceptance in the NHS that this is almost a biological norm. This is a real problem that needs to be reversed and I hope that the Minister will agree that we need a firm strategy.

I thank the noble Lord for the advice that he has given me to date on many issues relating to this portfolio. In terms of a specific men’s health strategy, it was quite clear that we needed a women’s health strategy because for many years women’s health had not been given the consideration that it needed, including on a whole range of issues such as clinical trials and data, for example. On male life expectancy, the issues that men face are quite disparate, so we target particular issues such as systemic heart disease, cancers, particularly prostate cancer, the fact that more men than women die from suicide, alcohol-related deaths, drug-poisoning, smoking and obesity. We look at those and target them specifically, rather than putting them into an overall men’s strategy.

My Lords, we should not look at men as one homogenous blob. There is more than a nine-year life expectancy difference between men in the top income bracket and those in the bottom 10, which is more than the life expectancy difference between men and women in those brackets. What will the Government do to ensure equity and fairness to tackle this deep-rooted health inequality for some men?

The Government have launched the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and part of its remit is to make sure that we look at inequalities within the health system, particularly gender inequalities or those to do with income strata, and at how people in different income brackets are affected differently. That is why the word “disparity” is in the name of the office.

I declare my interest as co-chair of the APPG for Bladder and Bowel Continence Care. Will the Government consider making it a statutory requirement that in men’s public toilets there are appropriate bins for the disposal of stoma and other continence products, as well as personal care products? Currently, toilets used by women are usually provided with suitable means for the disposal of sanitary dressings, but why are there not similar requirements for male toilets?

I thank the noble Baroness for raising this important topic. I have to admit that I was not aware of this before it was raised. In looking into it further, I know that the noble Baroness was in contact with the previous Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation on the issue. As the matter rests with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Bethell, had followed up with a letter in May this year, outlining the steps that the department is taking regarding toilet facilities, including looking at certain building regulations. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has also launched a call for evidence on the provision of male and female toilets. As soon as we have more information, I will write and update the noble Baroness.

My Lords, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK. This figure, and the high rate among young men in particular, has not changed for decades. Research by the Samaritans shows that affluent middle-aged men seem particularly vulnerable—stigma and unwillingness to ask for support obviously play a part. What specific measures and investment are the Government building into their mental health strategy to address this serious matter?

I thank the noble Baroness for raising this very important issue. We know that men are not a homogenous group, as the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, previously said, but some men are less likely than women to seek help or to talk about suicidal feelings. Others can be reluctant to engage with health and other support services. One of the things we have to do is tackle the stigma associated with this; that has been a key priority for years. That is why we funded the Time to Change campaign to 2020-21; it has played a key role. In addition, we have looked at resources on Every Mind Matters, the mental health hub on the NHS website. We have also issued guidance to local authorities and looked at how we can target the high-risk groups such as men.

My Lords, I have closely witnessed the state of mental health provision for men recently, with a hugely significant presence of black and Asian men, particularly Muslims, for whom levels of services decry humanity and are far-fetched from the paper strategy. Given that men’s well-being is integral to our society’s well-being, many families and women remain vulnerable as a result. Will the Minister accept that we need not just strategy papers? Will he do everything he can to address this mental health pandemic, about which we have known for many decades?

The noble Baroness raises a very important point on how there might be a macho approach to seeking help in certain communities, and how we address those concerns on a community-by-community level. It is really important that we do that. It is part of the remit of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities to look at how we target certain communities to make sure we address inequalities.