Men will be targeted in a pilot NHS scheme to encourage them to check up on health and lifestyle. The Telegraph reports that the measure comes after questions were raised in parliament about the lack of a government plan to tackle worse health outcomes and lower rates of life expectancy among men. 

The Health Minister Maria Caulfield said that a pilot scheme involving 150,000 participants is focusing on male-dominated sectors such as construction. Men visit the doctor in much lower numbers than women, and one of reasons most often given for not making an appointment is that men are reluctant to take time off work.

Some men find the prospect of going for tests daunting, or they would rather not discuss their health concerns with a stranger. Another point that was raised at the parliamentary inquiry was that men wanted reassurance that there would be a measurable outcome from a test, such as a plan of action to reduce the risk of developing a disease. 

The current scheme is targeting heart health, in an effort to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Heart health checks usually involve blood pressure tests, cholesterol tests, BMI measurements, a diabetes risk assessment and questions about lifestyle such as activity levels, alcohol consumption, and smoking. 

It is estimated that there are around four million men living with heart disease in the UK, and 80 per cent of these have a related health condition. The condition can be preventable or treatable if it is detected in the early stages, but unfortunately partly because of men’s reluctance to visit the doctor, it is the leading cause of death for men in the UK.

One of the earliest signs of heart disease is erectile dysfunction (ED). This is because the blood vessels that supply the penis are narrower than elsewhere in the body, and so any circulatory problems tend to show up here first. This is why men are encouraged to be brave and overcome any embarrassment and seek treatment for ED.

Once any serious underlying health issues are ruled out, men with ED may be advised to make lifestyle changes such as exercising more, losing weight and cutting back on smoking and alcohol consumption. The first line of medical treatment is usually sildenafil, the trade name for Viagra, or tadalafil, the trade name for Cialis. 

ED medications are available without a prescription after a short consultation with a pharmacist. However, it’s always important to address any other health problems first. 

Speaking at the men’s health inquiry, Minister Caulfield said: “I think there’s some really exciting work happening in this space, in the workplace in particular. I think we’ll be looking at the outcomes of those workplace checks, and if they’re successful, I think it’s certainly the way forward.”

She added: “A lot of men are self-employed, for example. So taking time off work can cost them money and unless they can see a benefit right now of doing that, you know, telling them about their heart attack or stroke risk in 15 years – they are trying to pay the bills today and that is a priority.”

“So that is why we’ve got cardiovascular disease health checks happening in the workplace and my understanding is that they are being slightly directed towards more male-dominated places like construction sites, because the uptake in men is lower. And the aim is for 150,000 people in their place of work to get those health checks done.”

“Men in particular are not happy to have to phone at 8am to get through to their GP then take time off to go to an appointment. If they’re out on the high street on a Saturday morning, they can go and get their blood pressure checked.”

“You’ve got a captive audience and football clubs are doing a lot of work at half time putting messages on big screens” with others offering X-rays and CT scans as part of community diagnostic schemes.”

Other issues discussed at the men’s health enquiry included a national suicide prevention strategy; earlier diagnosis for prostate cancer; action to break down the stigmas that can prevent men from seeking healthcare support in a timely fashion; and how to address the gender inequalities in healthcare.