Male patients to sue over equality

GPs could face legal action from patients if they fail to treat men and women equally, a men’s health charity has warned.

From 6 April, when the Equality Act 2006 comes into force, GPs and primary care organisations (PCOs) across the UK will have to provide services that result in the same outcome for men and women.

Failure to do so could result in judicial review, said Belfast GP Dr Ian Banks, chairman of the Men’s Health Forum (MHF).

‘People are ready to go to court over this,’ he said. ‘In terms of health, men come off worse than women. The services provided are not as accessible as they are for women. This gender equality act works to the advantage of men.’

Patients or patient groups could apply for judicial reviews of PCO or practice policies that they claim provide unequal services or refuse to give a treatment because of gender, said Dr Banks.

‘You have to demonstrate you are delivering your outcome in terms of equality, and you have to do this in terms of gender,’ he said.

This could mean GPs have to make their surgery opening hours more convenient for men and ensure weight loss and smoking cessation programmes are equally attractive to both sexes.

GPs should also be trained to detect depression more effectively in men, said the MHF. It claimed that diagnoses and accessibility of services for depression are skewed towards women.

Dr Banks said it could extend to specific treatments, such as osteoporosis drugs, that PCOs may only give to women.

‘If there’s no good biological reason to deny treatment, then that will be illegal,’ he said.

Under the Act, PCOs will assess information on how their policies and activities affect men and women. This will be used to set gender equality objectives to be published in a gender equality scheme to be reviewed every three years.

An MDU spokeswoman said the details available so far made it difficult to assess the legal implications for GPs.

‘When PCOs publish their equality schemes, it will be clearer,’ she said.

But Dr Sarah Jarvis, women’s health spokeswoman at the RCGP and a west London GP, said the argument services were less accessible to men than women ‘does not hold water’.

‘More women are working and the idea that services are skewed towards women just doesn’t bear out,’ she said.

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