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Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health: speech at the launch of Men's Health Week

  • Last modified date:
    7 December 2010
Anne Milton MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health

Anne Milton, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health, speaks at the launch of Men's Health Week, 14th June 2010

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Thanks very much. It's wonderful to be here in this historic stadium.

Tonight, it is my absolute pleasure to be in the company of world-class professionals; not just from sporting disciplines, but from my own discipline – health.

The Men's Health Forum have done so much on behalf of men's health; campaigning, researching, and speaking up for men across the country.

I want to thank everyone at the Forum – and all those who have lent their support tonight – for their hard work in support of what is a worthy aim: to improve the profile of men's health.

As I glance around this gathering of the great and good in male sport & male health, I cannot help but feel slightly out of place. I am the only female Minister in my Department; yet I am tasked with taking your agenda forward.

But surely the lesson of the Forum's work is that advocacy cuts across barriers; that gender should be no obstacle to success.

Sometimes the strongest voices come from outside the choir. And I want to reassure you that I share in your belief in a future where all men can achieve health and well-being outcomes that are second to none.

The focus of Men's Health Week 2010 is a welcome one. To get a million more men physically active by the next Olympic year is an ambitious, but worthy goal. Because in preventing illness, in curbing the cost to the NHS, this is perhaps the single best health legacy we could aim for.

We agree on the symptoms: that too many men are at risk of health problems which could be avoided by exercising. We agree on the diagnosis: that attitudes and lifestyles conspire to stop men remaining active.  And we agree on the outcome: promoting better health and improving treatment for men and boys.

So the question now is what course of treatment will bring success.

The Men's Health Forum have made some recommendations about how we might get men moving. I want to thank everyone who worked on these policy positions, and I want to let you know that we will be taking a closer look at them. We are open to new ideas; and we want to work with you towards our shared aims. 

It seems to me that the recommendations can be boiled down to two key steps: thinking more about the needs of men – about their attitudes, their behaviours, their motivations – and then taking those thoughts and building them in to the way healthcare is communicated and delivered in your area. And actually, that mirrors our approach to healthcare as a whole.

We have always said that the best people to make decisions about local health needs are local health professionals.
We've taken the old top-heavy formation – where health policy is dictated from Whitehall and local clinical staff are left powerless – and turned it on its head.

We want to empower health professionals in your area to decide on how best to address your health needs.  By shifting power away from central and regional bodies, we're freeing local staff – and local people – to choose what works for them.

It's a simple idea, but it can radically change the healthcare is designed and delivered locally. 

A younger neighbourhood, with more kids and young families, will have different health needs to a suburb with more retirees. By giving local health professionals more control over their training and education budgets, we can free them to invest in the kind of training that will ensure the best health outcomes for their area.

By appointing local directors of public health, who will make sure that councils and the NHS work together more closely, we can help bridge the gap between sports, physical activity and health programs happening in your area.

Increasing local control also allows us to improve the way we communicate about health. For too long, Government's answer to health challenges has been to launch a big national awareness campaign. Sometimes, this has worked really well. When campaigns are carefully designed and cleverly crafted they can reach people across society.

But as the Forum's own research makes clear, those messages aren't reaching everyone. Like the 45 year old with the dodgy knee who thinks because he can't play five-a-side he can't do any exercise. The stressed-out office worker who thinks he can't make time to keep fit. The retiree who's never exercised but still feels invincible.

These are the men who are missing out on the message. These are the million men we want to get active. So how can we reach them?

I believe we need a new way of encouraging public health. In the past, that might have meant paying a fortune for a glossy advertising campaign off the back of the World Cup. But the days of endless budgets for marketing are over. And actually, health happens much closer to home.

A father and son might come here to Upton Park a couple of times a year, but they're at their local park every weekend.

Different people will want to be active in different ways – whilst some men are avid sports fans, for others cycling to work might be the route to fitness.

Rather than throwing money at the problem from the centre, I believe we can give local communities the power to decide what works for them.

Rather than relying on an exclusive Premiership club buy-in, we want to see your local FC arranging events in your local area to get more men moving. Whether it's a masters league, an open training session, or a monthly fun run, the opportunities are endless – and more importantly, they reach men where it matters.

Forty-four years ago, this club sent three men to represent the nation in the greatest competition of all. As we gather tonight in another World Cup year, it's our job to bring to use our creativity and energy to secure a similar legacy for men's health.

I look forward to working with you to make that happen.

Thank you very much.

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