An innovative new outreach programme has been launched in London to provide free health checks for men and boost early diagnosis of prostate and other urological cancers.
Known as the ‘man van’, the mobile clinic will visit workplaces and churches in the capital, starting in Croydon, to improve healthcare access for men.
“Men often seek medical help for cancer and other serious health conditions too late”
It is intended to reach men who are less likely to receive regular health checks, and are at risk of having cancer diagnosed late, when it is more difficult to treat.
The programme has been developed by The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, RM Partners West London Cancer Alliance, and the Institute of Cancer Research, London.
It will focus on men of working age who often have worse prostate cancer outcomes than older men, particularly those in manual jobs who often struggle to access healthcare.
Black men, who have roughly double the risk of developing prostate cancer and an increased risk of death once diagnosed, are also being encouraged to get checked, said those behind the initiative.
A pilot will investigate whether the van care model can improve diagnosis and survival of men in these high-risk groups. If successful, the approach could be rolled out more widely across the NHS.
Fionnuala McCarthy, an advanced nurse practitioner from the Royal Marsden, works in the man van, the only nurse to do so at present.
“Men often seek medical help for cancer and other serious health conditions too late,” noted Ms McCarthy.
“By bringing the van straight to men at work and in the community, we hope to boost early detection and treatment in those who might otherwise only see a doctor once their cancer has progressed.”
She told Nursing Times that her role involved running clinics in the van alongside a clinical research fellow.
“During each appointment, I give men a series of tests including, if appropriate, a PSA test and checks for common conditions like diabetes and hypertension,” she said.
“We also offer men a mental health assessment and healthy lifestyle advice, touching on things like diet, smoking and alcohol consumption.”
She added: “After each clinic, I will discuss the findings with men we’ve assessed and, with their consent, share this information with their GP.
“If necessary, men are referred to a specialist service for further investigations or treatment. If an increased risk of cancer is potentially detected, the Royal Marsden will be offered as a referral option along with their local hospital.”
The van is currently located at a construction site in Croydon, where it is offering appointments to employees of the international construction company Lendlease.
There are plans for the van to eventually visit sites across West London. It was officially launched at an event last week to coincide with Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
The van is visiting workplaces in partnership with the union Unite, along with community organisations such as support groups and churches in Croydon.
“The van offers a private and relaxed space where men can come and chat about their health”
It will also provide men with an opportunity to take part in clinical trials aiming to improve survival from prostate cancer, carried out by the Royal Marsden and the Institute of Cancer Research.
These include the PROFILE study which hopes to shed light on why some men, including Black men, are at greater risk of prostate cancer, and develop new ways to improve diagnosis and treatment.
Nick James, professor of prostate and bladder cancer research at the Institute of Cancer Research, and a consultant clinical oncologist at the Royal Marsden, said: “The van offers a private and relaxed space where men can come and chat about their health, be supported by clinicians and receive simple but potentially life-saving tests.
“If the Man Van proves to be an effective model, we hope to see the approach rolled out more widely across the NHS,” he said.
Former Olympic athlete and prostate cancer campaigner Linford Christie is also supporting the man van initiative.
He said: “My mum worked as a nurse at the Royal Marsden, and I’m thrilled that the hospital is launching this brilliant new service.”