Well at least there is no shortage of health information for men. Oh really? I took a look at what was on offer in a number of pharmacies. You could’ve been excused for thinking that the only way men get any education when it comes to health, disease prevention and early diagnosis is when their female partner picks up a BMA guide to the prostate.

When I ask pharmacists why they have so little health education material for men they reply, “because men don’t come in”. When I ask men why don’t they use the pharmacy better, they reply, “because there is nothing for men”. You don’t get a worse Catch 22 when it comes to poor use of highly trained and experienced community health professionals.

A study by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain showed men used the pharmacy half as often as women, similar to their use of general practice. Men’s relatively poor self care and self medication may contribute to the higher male A&E admission rate over the age of 50, not least from the exacerbation of long term medical conditions.

Thankfully the pharmacy contract, the men’s health CPPE package from Manchester University and the Gender Equality Duty act will put men and medicines more firmly on the map. To ignore 50 per cent of your potential customers is not good business sense. Perhaps an even more worrying study from the same organisation showed that attitudes towards self care, woman or man, pharmacist or GP have not improved over the past 22 years. Go on, explain that lot next time you are in the Dragon’s Den. ‘You’re Sacked’ was the cry.

What men want

Now here is a paradox, the conundrum, something which makes me scratch behind my ears and suck my teeth. A major survey showed men were put off using general practice for reasons a high street pharmacy can ideally address, not least the need for an appointment, awkward opening hours and geographical location. Pharmacists are arguably the most accessible of community health professionals. Yet it just doesn’t happen. Walk in, after 5pm and weekends right on the high street.

Contrary to popular belief men do want better health information. NHS Direct Online is used equally by men and women and the seven Haynes health manuals for men are best sellers. There are now over 20 ‘mini manuals’ from the Men’s Health Forum on specific medical conditions targeting men, effectively filling the male health knowledge gap. Supported by www.malehealth.co.uk , which takes advantage of men’s tendency to use web based information, these manuals should be available in every British pharmacy. Ask the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. 

Stand up and be counted

So what’s on offer? Let’s take erectile dysfunction as a good example of what happens when you don’t give men what they want, only what clever white coats tell them they need. Just for fun, open your spam box. Ignore just for a minute ‘Russian Brides for Sale’ what else do you see? Yes! Miracle drugs which will take even the most over worked male pharmacist to the height of ecstasy, even more than selling a crate load of Cab Drivers Cough Linctus to the Department of Health when they run out of Tamiflu.

All a man has to do is click on the right button, give his credit card details and bingo, a pack of sildenafil knocked up in a cement mixer previously used to mix three of sand and one of cement pops thought the letter box. The point is this, if we make it difficult for men to get hold of medicines they will take the route of least resistance and embarrassment. They will miss the possible diagnosis of diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia that are the major causes of ED.

Smoking cessation

Perhaps the greatest misconception of male health revolves around hairy dangling bits. It only takes a few moments of discussion, a gentle scratch over the surface to find men are interested in health, it is the services which are often to blame. Take smoking cessation. Men are less likely to take part in GP run ‘quit the weed’ programs. Yet once men make the decision to stop smoking they are more likely to be successful than women, even so it is rarely easy and pharmaceutical support can make all the difference.

While newer drugs target the brain’s ‘craving centre’ not requiring nicotine replacement, not all men are convinced and want patches/gum/tablets to tide them over. Personal intervention and support from the pharmacist is still a major factor for success but also paves the way for better use of services in the future.

Skin deep

Now here is a sack of stats to make you sweat. For every cancer common to both sexes men will die more often. Take melanoma, a preventable killer. In all European countries it is more common in women. Yet in all countries in Europe more men will die from this dreadful cancer. Ask yourself why. Can it be that men are in some way different when it comes to treatment? Perhaps men take a pair of pliers to the offending aberrant mole rather than getting medical advice? Or maybe, just maybe they wait too long before getting it sorted.

The average delay for the diagnosis of diabetes in men is around 10 years while for women it is less than two years. Things are so bad it is optometrists who most diagnose diabetes in men, not the GP or practice nurse. Where is the pharmacist – the most easily accessible, highly trained health profession on the high street?

Men’s Health Week

The week of Fathers’ Day (June 14th) is Men’s Health Week. It will revolve around activity and better use of services. It is a golden opportunity for pharmacists to get involved in addressing the scandal of early male death. We have a ‘Perfect Storm’ brewing. Men are becoming more aware, the government recognises an average life expectancy of 54 years for East Glasgow men as bad for votes, a ‘new pharmacy contract not to mention GPs waking up to men’s health. As a counterpoint, increasing male obesity. Pharmacists are fi nding their true and deserved role in health promotion, but will they take the opportunity to make a difference when it comes to men’s health?

For further information on men’s health, visit www.malehealth.co.uk and www.menshealthforum.org.uk. Further information

Ian Banks is President of the Men’s Health Forum