Martyn Gould, 48, from Holmfirth hasn’t been to see his GP in a decade – the last time was for an infection that required antibiotics and he simply couldn’t wait it out. Ask him why he so rarely pays a visit and Gould, who runs his own textiles company, cites work constraints.
“The main one is lack of time and the knowledge that you’ll probably get better anyway,” he says. By the time he manages to get an appointment, he’s often on the mend. In August, a survey by GP publication, Pulse, revealed the average wait for an appointment had exceeded two weeks for the first time ever.
Gould is not alone. Eight in 10 men would choose to endure an illness rather than seek help – and 39% have let symptoms get to the point where the pain is “unbearable”, at which point they had no choice but to visit their GP, according to a survey of 2,000 men by private health provider and insurer, Bupa.
Just over a third (35%) admitted they would endure conditions for as long as three weeks before seeking treatment, while 27% would wait even longer.
“I think it’s a gender issue and it’s symptomatic of the way that your own parents bring you up,” says Gould, whose mum and dad were public servants. Growing up there was a reluctance, he says, to waste someone’s time unless “your leg’s hanging off” – an attitude that’s likely shared by a lot of Brits.
However, when it comes to the health of his kids, Gould feels differently. “The irony is if they’re ill, the rule wouldn’t apply. If it’s not clearing up after three days they get the proper medical assistance.”
This attitude that “things will just get better eventually” is something Dr Akash Patel, lead GP at My Healthcare Clinic in London, sees a lot in practice.
“Men often have an attitude that things will just get better if they put their head in the sand,” says Dr Patel. “When they are unwell, they are more confident in general that they will get better on their own and feel it is a hassle to book an appointment and get to the GP.
“A lot of men I come across are not even registered with an NHS GP and don’t even know where their closest practice is. This is the biggest hurdle in seeking easy access to medical help.”
Men who self-report traditional views on masculinity are less likely to get consistent health care, according to research by Rutgers psychologists. One in five men cite fear of diagnosis as a reason for not getting checked.
And this plays out after diagnosis, too. Figures from Macmillan Cancer Support suggest that in 2018, the charity was contacted by 20,000 men, compared to around 41,000 women. Not only that, but men were 29% less likely to call about emotional support than women.
Another hurdle for men is anxiety over intimate examinations. When it comes to issues relating to sexual health, skin and the prostate, there’s a large number of men who put off seeing a GP for as long as possible, says Dr Patel. Mental health is another area where fewer men seek help than women, he adds.
This reluctance to talk about health issues with the doctor stretches to discussing problems with family and friend.
Bupa’s poll revealed nearly half of men had kept conditions to themselves and suffered in silence. When asked why, 45% said they did so because they hoped the problem would simply “go away” while more than a third felt too embarrassed to talk. Half said they didn’t want to worry anyone.
Gould says he will often avoid speaking about illness with friends and family, and instead will “buckle down and get on with it” when he’s in company. “Everyone has their own stuff to deal with,” he says, adding that he’s doesn’t want to “drone on” about the trapped nerve in his back to loved ones.
In fact, a lot of men only go to see their doctor because their partner has booked them the appointment or forced them to seek help, says Dr Patel.
But Bupa’s research also found more than a quarter of men regretted not getting a health check-up sooner when they felt unwell. It’s worth keeping in mind what a spokesperson for the Mental Health Foundation previously told HuffPostUK about men’s reluctance to seek support: “However you feel – hopeful, scared, resolved, embarrassed – is how you feel, and it is ok to discuss these feelings.”