‘Men are dying too young’
For many men it often takes a wife's nagging or for them to be in constant horrendous pain to get them to go to the doctor. But this reluctance is one of several factors which means too many men are still dying too young. Health correspondent Kim Briscoe reports.
One in five men in England will die before reaching the age of 65.
It is a sobering statistic, and coupled with another - that two in every five die before the age of 75 - it shows just how much has got to be done to improve the health of men in this country.
By comparison, around one in 10 of women die before 65 and one in four before the age of 75.
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According to the Men's Health Forum, a charity that aims to tackled these inequalities, it means that almost 100,000 men are dying prematurely each year, compared to about 66,000 women.
The forum has launched a new campaign report called Lives too Short - the State of Men's Health, which shows that men are particularly badly hit by problems like suicide and cancer.
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Colin Penning, who works for Men's Health Forum and who lives off Ipswich Road in Norwich, said: 'Health more naturally becomes a women's issue and men don't like to be seen as vulnerable in front of a GP or they don't like taking part in what they see as an embarrassing process.
'Men also say they often feel like they are wasting the GP's time.
'We need men to act on signs and changes in their health and not leave it until they are in crippling pain.
'They need to take up any offers of screening or services from their GP.
'For younger men it is much more about getting help for mental health problems or dropping out of getting any physical activity.
'Women are far more likely to be diagnosed by a GP with depression, but if you look at the suicide rates three quarters of suicides are by men because they are not seeking help or they not being diagnosed until it's too late.'
The campaign report shows that men in poorer areas die much younger than wealthier men – for example the life expectency of men in South Norfolk is 80.3 years, while in Yarmouth and Norwich it is just 77.7 years.
And 76pc of people who kill themselves are men and men are 70pc more likely to get a cancer that affects both men and women.
That is why a woman in Norfolk can expect to live four years longer than the average man, while a man in Norwich is 35pc more likely to die of cancer than a Norwich woman.
The report also shows that, despite their health problems, men make much less use of primary care services than women – on average, men visit the GP 20pc less often.
Ernie Childs, 63, ignored his bowel cancer screening test for months. It was only when his wife Karen pressured him into doing the test that he found out he had cancer and was able to get life-saving treatment.
The grandfather-of-five, who runs Great Yarmouth Potteries, said: 'I'm a bit of a workaholic and being self-employed the last thing I want to do is take time out to set in a doctor's waiting room.
'I'm glad my wife made me do the test. I had an inkling it was going on but if I hadn't had the test when I had I wouldn't be here.'
He also admitted that the only reason he is speaking out so publicly about the issue, is because the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital asked him to help raise awareness and, like many men, his initial reaction had been to keep his illness a secret.
He said: 'I didn't tell anyone but my wife, I wanted to keep it a secret.
'But they were brilliant at the hospital in Norwich and they sorted me out so it's the least I can do.
'I have a second chance and I spend a little more time with the grandchildren and I now swim 80 lengths every morning whereas I did nothing before.
'It's been a life-changing experience.'
Men's cancer campaigner Mel Lacey, a former police officer, is working with the trustees of the Pink Ribbon Foundation, which fundraises for breast cancer, to launch a Blue Ribbon Foundation to raise awareness of prostate cancer.
The 62-year-old was only diagnosed with prostate cancer after a friend who had the disease suggested he should request a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test because of his age.
He said: 'Men are all full of bravado, cracking jokes down the pub, and laughing with their mates, but when it comes to going to the doctor and talking about things down below they chicken out.
'Since I have been trying to set up the Blue Ribbon Foundation, I have had quite a few people contact me and one or two said as a result they went and got checked and found out they had cancer.
'I also had another man conact me who had been diagnosed who was very upset because he had been speaking to a consultant at the hospital and there had been a woman in the room.
'Because the prostate affects men down below, personal questions about that area have to be asked and men do get very embarrassed.
'Women go through having babies and their personal examinations so why can't we blokes be a bit more brave and talk about our health and problems down below.'
The Men's Health Forum has spent 15 years researching how best to tackle men's health and is now calling for action in five keys areas to tackle men's mental health problems, get more men physically active, address men's high cancer rates, improve men's use of primary health services and involve more workplaces in men's health and wellbeing.
Peter Baker, chief executive of the Men's Health Forum, said: 'The government is re-organising the NHS and is about to change policy on public health so it's vitally important that it recognises the toll of poor health on men's lives and works with charities, workplaces and communities to take effective action to tackle it.'
More information about the campaign is available online at www.menshealthforum.org.uk/livestooshort.