Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Forum on Men's Health

On Thursday last week, HCCA consumer representatives Roger Killeen, Russell McGowan and Bill Heins attended a forum on men’s health convened by Jeremy Hanson of the ACT Liberals.  There were around 30 participants from a range of community groups within the ACT, including the Mental Health Consumer’s Network, YMCA and Woden Community Services.  There did not appear to be any doctors at the meeting.

The meeting was centred on Jeremy Hanson’s health discussion paper, “The State of Our Health”, and complemented the women’s health forum organised by the ACT Liberals and held earlier this year.  Hanson stressed his support for community-led men’s health initiatives and the proposed development of a new sub-acute health facility in the ACT.

Community and consumer participants also contributed to the discussion, with the Public Health Association of Australia’s Michael Moore suggesting the adoption of a root cause analysis approach to men’s health issues, highlighting the need for research into the social determinants of men’s health.  Moore suggested that this research could be conducted by a purpose-funded centre at the University ofCanberra.  Russell also indicated his support for community led approaches to men’s health issues, such as the proposed Canberra Health Alliance.  Based on the Oxford HealthAlliance model, a Canberra Health Alliance would facilitate exchange between experts and consumers to raise awareness about health issues and assist in the implementation of effective community interventions for health.  Russell also noted the need to focus on prevention and self-management as much as on services provided directly by health professionals.

Some particularly useful comments about the difficulty in getting men to access health services in a timely way came from the St Vincent de Paul representative who pointed out that men do not like to cede power and control over their lives to health professionals, and that men of the lowest socio-economic status were even less likely to present for assessment and treatment than other men.  Several worthwhile ideas were put forward by Jenny Miragaya from the Australian Nursing Federation (among others) on how these trends might be addressed, including the targeting of clinics especially to men, and the use of male nurse practitioners as a bridge into accessing healthcare.

A way forward may be the formulation of a Men’s Health Action Plan for the ACT as proposed by Margo Saunders, a freelance health policy researcher.  Bemoaning the lack of action on the national Men’s Health Strategy put forward by the Commonwealth several years ago, she pointed to actions in some of the other jurisdictions like Victoria and South Australia and recommended that the ACT consider a similar approach.

The convening of this forum highlights that men often have very specific health needs and issues. Willingness to access services and the availability of appropriate or targeted care are factors in the health of men across Australia and indeed the world.  A recent study, funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and conducted by researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine, has found that men in the USA are more likely than women to be readmitted to hospital within 30 days of discharge.  The risk factors for readmission include retirement, single marital status, depression and absence of primary care follow up post-discharge.

In order to effectively address men’s health issues, it is imperative that coordinated and targeted programs are introduced and promoted to the male population.  Health policy planners must listen to the needs of men and find ways to reduce the social, cultural and economic barriers that discourage men from accessing health care services.

Heather McGowan
Policy and Research

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