This post began as a jokey exchange on Twitter. As part of confirmation that he was taking part in Movember, someone I follow tweeted a link to the UK government’s NHS Direct web site and a ‘checker’ there on Male sexual health.

The principle seemed sensible

If you would like confidential advice about a sexual health problem, you’re in the right place. There’s no need to feel embarrassed or shy if you are concerned about a sexual health issue.

I thought I’d give it a try – and to forestall inappropriate comment, no, I don’t have a ‘sexual health issue.’ I’m interested in government web sites – honest, officer.

Click through to the next step on this helpful ‘checker’ and you’re asked

Before continuing with this health and symptom checker you need to make sure that the person is conscious and reacting to you normally, or if they are asleep, that they react to gentle shaking.

What?! I’m about to check my sexual health and I’m unconscious or asleep?

The next pages ask for my age and where I live. Fair enough.

Then, straight down to business in the next page with the first question – those of a delicate disposition turn away now

Have you been bleeding from your genital area in the last 6 hours?

Whoa, steady on, I thought this was about ‘male sexual health.’ This seems like getting down to business just a tad too soon.

For the sake of research I answered ‘No.’ That took me through to a page giving me twelve further options – none of them implying good news.

If you want to see a better – no, a brilliant – government web site check out GOV.UK, the UK government’s new site that’s supposed eventually to incorporate all their other current sites.

The contrast with NHS Direct couldn’t be greater

  • Clear simple layout and graphics – unlike the dense clutter of NHS Direct
  • The things most people want to know about each subject highlighted in clear language – I cannot believe that most men looking for information on sexual health need as their first port of call a  shock-horror question about whether they’ve been bleeding from their ‘genital area,’ and not only bleeding but within the last six hours. If they’re not unconscious before they read that they might be after.

In fact the NHS Direct pages would more honestly be headed ‘Do you have a serious sexual problem?’ They’re all about sickness, not health.

UK health aficionados will know that NHS Direct covers England only. It advises Scots, correctly, to visit their own NHS 24 site for advice. But before the Scottish NHS get too smug about how they’re doing, a search for ‘male sexual health’ there throws up no fewer than 175 links. On the first page of ten, not one is to do with male sexual health. So a big fail there too.

I can now add abhorrence of NHS web sites to my phobia of what I’ve called elsewhere the  NHS’s ‘disease of poster-itis and advanced leaflet syndrome.’

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