Around 15 million people in the United Kingdom have a chronic or long term health problem – a condition that cannot currently be cured but can be managed through medication or changes in lifestyle. At any given age, men are more likely than women to develop the most common and disabling of these types of conditions, for example, diabetes, stroke, lung conditions or heart disease.
These differences between men and women are not simply the result of genetic differences or something that cannot be changed. A growing amount of research is showing that the pressure to act in a ‘masculine’ way leads many men to be worse than women at accessing available health services and less effective at looking after their health overall.
There is very good evidence that helping people ‘self-manage’ a long term health condition results in better health for patients, fewer admissions into hospital, and large cost savings for the NHS. As a result, there are various initiatives, support systems and programmes in place throughout the NHS to help people improve their self-management skills. However, research has shown that less than one third of attendees at these types of programmes are male. Yet, although we know men are worse than women at managing their health and attending health services, we know little about whether there are differences in how men and women respond to services that help people improve their self-management skills and, if there is, the types of services that are the most effective, cost-effective, accessible and acceptable for helping men manage their condition. As a result, self-management support services that are currently offered to people with a long term health problem do not take into account how self-management experiences, goals, and needs may differ between men and women, despite this being a legal requirement for all NHS organizations.
Much of the existing research that has been carried out on self-management support services has been drawn together into several reviews which aim to offer a summary of the benefits and shortcomings of these types of programmes. Although many high quality reviews now exist, it is difficult for practitioners, service planners and policy makers to determine ‘what works best for whom’ because none of these existing reviews have specifically focused on the benefits and shortcomings of self-management programmes for men.
The aims of our project are therefore to: