Seanad debates

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Healthcare Policy

10:30 am

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister. I thank the Cathaoirleach's office for selecting this matter for debate this morning. Friday, 19 November is International Men's Day so this is an opportune time to consider issues concerning men's health. Men's Health Forum is an all-island network of individuals and organisations that have identified key concerns related to men's health and understanding these issues. There is a strong reason to keep a focus on men's health. Men and women continue to have different life expectancy rates, and health inequality among different subpopulations continues to feature. There is a substantial body of evidence supporting a gender-specific approach. It is imperative to build on the momentum and key milestones achieved over the past ten years.

A review of policy in the Department of Health and the HSE concludes that the policy has made significant progress in four key areas: promoting an increased focus on men's health research in Ireland; developing health promotion initiatives that support men in adopting positive health behaviours and increasing control over their lives; building social capital within communities for men; and the development and delivery of men's health training for health and other professionals. That is all positive. The HSE has funded a men's health forum to produce an Irish men's health report card, which represents an excellent body of work providing valuable statistics in the area of men's health. For example, the life expectancy of males increased from 77.3 years to 80.5 years between 2007 and 2018.

There is much evidence on the causes of health problems in men. Cancer is the number one cause of men's deaths in Ireland, and Ireland has the highest rate of diagnosis of prostate cancer in the EU. To be positive, this may reflect the use of prostate-specific antigen, PSA, screening, on which we are a leader. Cancer is the cause of 33% of all men's deaths. These include neoplasms of the larynx, trachea, bronchus and lungs and cancers of the prostate, pancreas and oesophagus. Testicular cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among males under the age of 45. The incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer has doubled since 1994. Thankfully, however, the mortality rate is low. The mortality rate associated with testicular cancer is low, and the survival rate has increased. Some 71% of heart disease cases in 2019 related to men. I refer in particular to coronary artery disease and coronary heart disease, which is a narrowing of the heart arteries. That is important to note. The male death rate associated with respiratory diseases has fallen, but the rate is still higher than the EU average.

Circumstances are improving but it is important to keep the focus on men's health to remind men - and, in many cases, to remind women to remind men, their loved ones - to look after their health and get regular checkups. In this vein, it is clear that we need to redouble our efforts and provide a new national men's health policy and action plan that would strive to build on the progress we have achieved to date. Maybe the Minister will comment on whether that is in train.

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The Senator will appreciate that I am responding on behalf of the Minister of State in the Department of Health, Deputy Butler, who is unavailable today. I thank the Senator for raising what I consider to be a timely discussion in the Seanad on an important matter. I am pleased to have this opportunity to inform the House about progress in this important area. Events such as International Men's Day and Men's Health Week always give us a great opportunity to come together to raise awareness of men's health, as the Senator has done, and, perhaps most important, determine what we can do to improve it.

The need for a continued focus on men's health is grounded in the evidence that men die younger than women and have higher death rates associated with the leading causes of death, including accidents and suicide. Research suggests that, by comparison with women, men have more limited contact with GPs, can be reluctant to use primary care services and are more likely to present late in the course of an illness. These are trends we need to reverse to improve the health and well-being of Irish men.

In 2009 Ireland was the first country in the world to publish a national men's health policy, and it has been at the forefront internationally in advancing men's health at research, policy and advocacy levels. The HSE's National Men's Health Action Plan: Healthy Ireland - Men 2017–2021 sets out a new vision and roadmap for men's health. Good progress has been made on implementing this plan, which has seen the delivery of several health-promoting activities targeting men and boys. It is led by the HSE's health and well-being division, with several active and engaged partners. In particular, the further delivery of the Engage men's health training programme has improved the way health and social care services are targeted at, and are delivered to, men.

Health and well-being are promoted in men's sheds through the network of more than 400 men's sheds across the country and the development of an evaluation programme for Sheds for Life. Earlier this year, my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, launched an impact report on the Sheds for Life programme. It shows very encouraging results in several areas, particularly an increase in levels of physical activity and benefits for mental health and well-being.

Programmes such as Men on the Move and On Feirm Ground are making a real difference and supporting men in making their journey to better health and well-being. The HSE's men's health advisory group works to develop annual action plans to deliver on the overall Healthy Ireland plan for men. It is made up of key stakeholders in the area of men's health, including the HSE's health and well-being division, the Institute of Public Health, the Irish Heart Foundation, the HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention, the National Men's Health Research Centre, the Irish Men's Sheds Association, and the Men's Development Network. This group is currently planning to develop a new action plan, and work on this will begin in the coming months.

Photo of Seán KyneSeán Kyne (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister for her response on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Butler. I welcome the fact that the advisory group is working on the delivery of a new plan. It is important that we continue to focus on men's health. As the Minister pointed out, tremendous work has been done by men's sheds, which have played a major role in providing a social outlet for men across rural and urban areas. The Irish Men's Sheds Association is being considered internationally as a model that brings men together.

I welcome the announcement that work is continuing and that a new action plan will be devised over the coming months. It is most important that we continue to focus on men's health and encourage men to visit their GP regularly. If they feel something is not right, they should go to see a GP. We must urge the loved ones in their lives, including spouses and partners, to encourage them to look after their health for the sake of themselves and their families.

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator for his significant contribution to the House today on this important topic. Any opportunity we have to shine a light on the discussion on men's health and to be proactive in this regard must be seized.As the Senator will be aware from what I said earlier, significant progress has been made on this. As he has indicated, there is a responsibility on all of us collectively to play our part.

A range of factors needs to be taken into account when we apply ourselves collectively to such an important goal as improving men's health. However, if we had to pick just one term to encapsulate the significance of the success that has been achieved to date, it would be co-operation and partnership. Healthy Ireland, the national framework for improving the health and well-being of our people, emphasises the importance of recognising that it is beyond the capability of any single Department or Government agency to promote health and well-being to everyone. This can only be done through society-wide engagement with health and well-being promotion and health improvement activities. This ranges from individuals making positive lifestyle choices and projects run by community and local groups, to policy and legislative changes, where necessary at the highest level of Government. Therefore, it is a collective approach.

In the area of men's health, we have been pleased to work with the organisations I referenced earlier, such as the Men's Health Forum, the Men's Development Network, the Irish Men's Sheds Association and of course the HSE. This is the type of co-operative, collaborative approach that is delivering results. We will continue to work to strengthen and develop this partnership cross-departmentally and also with wider society, individually and collectively.