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GPs must have a 'gender duty' too

The Men's Health Forum is calling for GPs to be included in the Equality Bill, the legislation that will impose a new public sector duty on health authorities and other public bodies to promote gender equality.

In its response to the Government on how the Bill's requirement should be implemented, the Forum strongly welcomes the legislation and says it hopes it will lead to a new recognition of the importance of gender as a determinant of health status.

The Forum believes it is absolutely crucial that GPs are unequivocally included within the requirements of the gender duty.   It says there is doubt and ambiguity on this point and it recommends that the matter is addressed with the very greatest urgency, that the intended position of GPs in relation to the duty is made explicit, and that the precise mechanisms for achieving GPs' responsibility under the duty are spelled out from the outset.

The Forum says that general practice is currently demonstrably failing to meet men's needs effectively. Men are much less likely to visit their GP than women.  One of the most significant reasons for this is that services in general practice are frequently structured and delivered in a way that effectively discriminates against men.

The other main reason for including GPs in the legislation is that they are directly involved in the management of Primary Care Trusts and it would be anomalous for GPs to be formally engaged in making decisions in respect of the PCT's obligations under the new gender duty if there is ambiguity about their own professional position in relation to the duty.

David Wilkins, Policy Officer at the Forum, said: 'This  Bill is probably the single biggest opportunity we have had to achieve better health services for men since the foundation of the NHS. The Bill places a duty on all public authorities to achieve equality of outcomes which is critical for men's health.'

The Forum's response document says that outcome measures in many disease areas demonstrate unequivocally that men are not doing as well as women, and some men — the least well off — are doing the least well of all. It adds: 'There can be no significant progress in public health in the UK until policy makers and service planners find ways of constructing healthcare systems that respond more sensitively to male attitudes, behaviours, needs and aspirations.'

It says the new legislation could lead to a step change in the way health services engage with men, and in the way men engage with health services.  Potentially, this could lead to significant and measurable improvements in the health of the male population over the next decade and beyond.

But it warns that the discretion and flexibility currently being proposed by the Government could allow those public authorities that are not motivated to do so, to postpone, if not to disregard completely, the need to take significant action on this matter. The Forum argues that the Government should lay down that it will always be "relevant" for public authorities to take effective action under the duty to achieve improvements in the health of men and women.

Page created on January 16th, 2006

Page updated on December 1st, 2009