Lipstick and no spanners

I wish I had thought of that line but it wasn’t me. It comes from a Men’s Health Forum survey of the use of pharmacies by men for health advice, where a man describes how deeply out of place he felt in one. Another man, commenting on going to the GP, said ‘It’s like visiting a ladies’ hairdresser’. Same sentiment, different health service.

There are major problems that need to be solved in men’s health – one glance at men’s lower life expectancy than women, and a more detailed look at causes of death generally, and you can see that men’s health is in a parlous state. Both the comments above confirm what the ultimate outcomes suggest - men are much less likely to go to the GP or talk to pharmacists for advice. There is an acute need to promote healthy living to men and save lives. Men’s health is not about specific health conditions but about late presentation leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment, poor use of GP services, lack of knowledge and overcoming the deficit caused by what had been, up until quite recently, long term lack of policy interest in the area.
 
The Men’s Health Forum has been active in health policy and service development for the past fifteen years. It will be here for the long haul and there is a review of their current thinking on their website. The MHF makes the point that men’s unwillingness to seek help is reinforced by a number of barriers, such as long working hours and inconvenient surgery opening times. There is no obvious place for teenage boys to learn informally how to manage their own health. Looking to their own fathers may not work, as their fathers are themselves uncertain or unwilling participants in their own health. Learning about health in school has not been conspicuously successful for boys up until now, as they are clearly growing up into men bemused and confused by health. Older men try to avoid services where participants or staff are mostly women. Some other ideas are required.
 
What about testing one out? It approaches men in a low key and crab like fashion.
 
Almost everyone shops, with greater or lesser enthusiasm. So far evidence suggests men are not that keen on pharmacies but why not 'improve' them? I propose ‘Boots for men’.  Find an empty high street shop and establish a ‘pop up’ Boots store. If it doesn’t work no huge investment is lost by Boots and there is no need to annoy woman by stripping out all the women’s counters in an established Boots store. Socially disadvantaged men might got into a store which was targeting men and be more at ease with a familiar brand such as Boots.
 
It is reasonable to assume (and this could be tested in any case) that it is more effective to make health information available to men out shopping rather than expect them to self identify their need and then diligently go looking for it. They also need to come across information that might become relevant at a later date and a browsing man is much more likely to do that.
 
Some marketing expert will know which are the most appealing colours and window designs for men, but based on my prejudice black, blue and silver corporate colours with green, grey or orange accents might work. The shop would stock men’s toiletries, with a subliminal separation of teenage toiletries from the rest to give teenagers their own area. The stock on the pharmacist’s counter would be reviewed to meet only men's and boys' needs, as would the opticians' service.
 
Sexual health advice and condoms are an obvious stock item so information on the  National Chlamydia Screening Programme should be nearby. Male assistants, either exclusively or in sufficient numbers that women assistants can be avoided if customers wish it, would be employed. Confidential advice and services would be offered in such a way that is was easy for customers to access with no sense that they had been indentified to everyone else in the shop as a man who clearly had an Embarrassing Problem.  
 
This imaginary shop would stock baby supplies and disposables but the display would be redesigned so it is obvious that men are the expected purchasers. This means removing the nipple cream, breast pads and treatment for stretch marks. Some men might buy these for the women in their lives but most will not.  A baby changing cubicle or two, for single Dads, or men out on their own with their children or grandchildren might not go amiss.
 
The men’s health counter area would contain a mixture of information and products so it is difficult to ignore information material in one designated area that can then be bypassed. Information about the Bowel Cancer Screening Programme and the national vascular checks programme, now being rolled out around the country should be on display and easily recognisable to the target group of older men.  Promoting the new abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening programme, the only national screening service specifically for men, and bowel screening the only cancer screening programme for men might spur older men’s contact with health services more generally.
 
Computer terminals to access guided health information for men on line would be required. It would not be the random, inaccurate and partial information that the internet could provide just as easily at home, but guided information based on what there is in the shop and who is there who could help with any next steps, advice and products. This may suit reluctant  men, who similarly to the boy scout they may once have been, like to ‘be prepared’ if they anticipate a difficult conversation.   And it may also resolve those questions at first hand with no need to involve anyone else.
 
Does it look patronising? Probably, to some men, but it might be a godsend to others This could be tested by market research, footfall and surveys. It is important that men feel comfortable when dealing with their health. Shopping is the commonest leisure activity. Combine the two.
 
 
So, Boots. Start walking?