As a London GP working across private healthcare and the NHS, I see a significant distinction in the numbers of men compared with women seeking medical help.
Men often have an attitude that things will just get better if they put their head in the sand, and so either avoid attending or present to the GP with a problem much later. It’s clear that men’s reluctance to address their health concerns is an ongoing challenge.
A lot of men I come across at MyHealthcare Clinic are not even registered with an NHS GP and often don’t know where their closest practice is.
This is clearly a significant hurdle in seeking easy access to medical help. Current NHS statistics show quite an alarming difference between male and female GP registrations in London, particularly within the 20-29 age group.
In Wandsworth, for example, where MyHealthcare Clinic is based, 46,000 women in this age range are registered with an NHS practice compared with just 33,000 men.
A similar pattern can be seen across several London boroughs, and it’s a real concern.
I think a particular issue for London is the transient nature of its population. Young professionals, who might spend maybe six months at an address before moving on, are less likely to take the time to register with a GP and come in to consult about a routine issue. There is also the problem of trust when an established relationship with a GP doesn’t exist.
Men commonly find it difficult to discuss intimate health concerns or to admit they are struggling with anxiety or depression, but it’s even harder to do so with a stranger who they might only have temporary contact with.
With a public healthcare system where routine appointments are generally available within office hours, accessibility is a further barrier to young professionals who face increasing pressure to work long hours. It’s a particular problem when it comes to addressing health concerns where symptoms are less obvious and could make for an awkward conversation with an employer.
Obviously, this is an issue that affects both sexes – but I find men often feel more confident that symptoms will resolve on their own and so will put off seeking help until they absolutely have to. Men also don’t tend to talk about their problems as openly with their partners, friends or family, and it’s often those support networks that encourage someone to seek medical help.
Often, a man’s first comment upon coming to see me with a health concern is “my wife/girlfriend has finally sent me in”, often much later than symptoms started.
For young men living and working long hours in the City, quite often single and away from friends and family, healthcare niggles are often simply easier to ignore.
There’s been some really good work on increased exposure of male health issues – for example prostate and testicular cancer campaigns have led to greater awareness and more men coming in to get checked out or carrying out self-examinations.
For me, my overriding concern is men’s mental health because it usually presents so late – if at all and, unfortunately, is still not talked about as openly as other medical conditions. When an issue is there, men often don’t seek help, and it can lead to catastrophic outcomes.
There’s still a way to go to tackle this, but there’s no question that more flexible healthcare options – whether that be out of hours appointments or consultations by telephone, video or email – are particularly beneficial for encouraging men to come forward.
At MyHealthcare Clinic, we find a large number of the patients coming in for our evening and weekend appointments are men. Similarly, the option to be able to see the same GP and build a rapport, which is another benefit we offer, is key to encouraging men to open up about issues that are worrying them and receive the support they need.