Five minutes with … a men’s health consultant

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 |

This is the text of a short interview with me that appeared in The Guardian on 21 February 2014.

Describe your role in one sentence: To support all kinds of organisations – NHS, private businesses, local government and charities – to begin or continue working to improve the health of men and boys.

Why did you want to work in healthcare? I believed that men’s health was unnecessarily poor but largely overlooked. There was a prevailing fatalistic view that men were somehow programmed to die young and nothing could be done to stop that. This was – and still is – totally incorrect.

How do you want to see the sector change in the next five years? Work to improve men’s health should be seen as normal and no longer a marginal, underfunded or short-term activity. To give one example, high-street pharmacies should address men’s huge under-use of their services by focusing on everyone, not just women.

My proudest achievement at work was … when I was chief executive at the Men’s Health Forum from 2000-12. In 2009, I secured the organisation’s role as a strategic partner of the Department of Health (a position it still holds). This reflected just how much the forum’s influence had grown since it became a charity in 2001.

The most difficult thing I’ve dealt with at work is … persuading funders and commissioners that men’s health is worth investing in.

The biggest challenge facing the NHS is … governments’ almost total failure to address the social determinants of health – including income, gender and race inequalities.

The people I work with are … increasingly anxious about whether they can do the job expected of them.

I do what I do because … the evidence shows that we can do much, much better for men.

Sometimes people think that I … should join some others involved in men’s issues in blaming feminism for men’s problems. I actually see feminism as part of the solution, not least because it shows us that gender roles are not fixed. Just as men have become more involved fathers, they can also take better care of their own health.

Right now I want to … convince the UK government to introduce HPV vaccinations for boys to reduce their cancer risk, encourage European health organisations to address men’s ineffective use of most primary care services, and to persuade global public health organisations like the World Health Organisation that they should address men’s, as well as women’s, health.

At work I am always learning that … men don’t just cause problems for society – they also face problems and help to solve them.

The one thing always on my mind at work is … should I tweet about that?

If I could go back 10 years and meet my former self I’d tell him … not to waste so much time tweeting.

If I could meet my future self I’d expect him to be … still trying to make a difference for men, whether or not that’s about health.

What is the best part of your job? When I’m making the case for men’s health and seeing people comprehend the problem for the first time. One statistic that never fails to make an impact is that men are more likely to be overweight than women – most people think it’s the other way around.

What is the worst part of your job? Hearing people talk about men’s health as if it’s just about prostates and penises – it really is much more than urology. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, mental health, all the cancers men can get, use of primary care services – these are the major men’s health issues.

What makes you smile? People in meetings using phrases like “going forward”, “ticks all the boxes” and “no brainer” without irony.

What keeps you awake at night? My cats, when I forget to lock them in the kitchen.

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