"Hard to reach" men not all that hard to reach

Back in May Healthwatch Blackburn and Darwen published their Blokes Views report. We missed it and so it seems did everyone else. Until last week, that is, when it was picked up by the Men’s Health Forum. The report spoke with “hard to reach” men to find out about their experience of accessing health and social care services in their local area. It comes up with some interestingly findings most importantly that these “hard to reach” men weren’t that hard to reach after all.

In 2012 the UK government set up Healthwatch. A system where each local area would have its own organisation to provide a voice for local people and to hold health and social care services to account.

In Blackburn and Darwen they felt that they weren’t doing a good job representing the local men with just 38% of their members being male. So they went to the places they thought they would find men to talk to: Pubs, cafes, fast food joints and betting shops. They spoke to them about their experiences of health and social care services. While they quickly gave up on bookies, the men were focused on betting not talking, they were able to get even more men by creating a pub quiz with a few added questions to help them gather the information they wanted.

In total they got 187 men to answer their questions. These men aren’t what you would call a representative sample of the UK as a whole. First Blackburn and Darwen has a lower life expectancy, higher depression rate and a higher suicide rate than the UK as a whole. Secondly the men were older – with 75% being over 45 and 50% being over 55. Thirdly they were more likely to be single or divorced – 49% of the men being single which is about the amount you’d expect to be married in the UK as a whole.

In short they have found the “hard to reach” men they were after. The results will offer nothing too surprising to those who follow, for lack of a better term, men’s issues.

17% of the men were not confident accessing health and social care services, 21% said that getting a GP appointment was a challenge.  Meanwhile 31% of the men either didn’t know or were unsure about where to get information about local services. Suggesting that their needs to be a rethink about how these services are advertised and how they are presented so that men not only know they exist but feel welcome when they get there.

22% of the men felt lonely or isolated all or most of the time. With 73% of the men saying there is a stigma attached to mental health in men it is hard to see how that situation might resolve by its self. This loneliness, difficultly talking as well a lack of things to do help to explain why 39% of the men felt that alcohol and drugs were the main issues affecting men in Blackburn and Darwen.

While these figures are interesting and important in their own right the most important part of the report is the way it conducted itself and that it got results at all. They went into pubs and cafes and bookies and, even if the last one didn’t work out, the results were great. They found that while groups of men were hesitant on his own a man is very interested in talking about health and social services. In the end they found 187 men eager to talk to them.

They found that the idea that these men are “hard to reach” isn’t all that true. This is why you’ll find CALMzines in pubs not GP waiting rooms. This is the arena you have to work in if you care that 3 times as many men die by suicide than women; that men are more likely to die of cancers, heart conditions and other conditions  that can be treatable. In short the report shows there are no excuses: We can reach these men.

Photo by Jessica Spengler originally found on Flickr used under creative commons licence.