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Collaborative health research to help aid men’s sexual health

Thursday, 23 May 2024 17:34

By Barbara Constable

A York nurse who recognised men were “suffering in silence” has successfully attracted funding for research.

Sara Ma, who lectures in nursing at York St John University, has been awarded a prestigious grant to deliver research that will lead to better sexual health support for men who live with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

Sara is the first nurse from York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to successfully lead and secure an award from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and will research alongside some of world’s leading experts in the field of men’s health.

The research is being funded by the NIHR and the award is the first of its kind specifically aimed at nurses and midwives.

The project will involve various health stakeholders from across the city.  Nurses from the Trust, York St John University and the University of York will now be able to deliver research that will lead to better sexual health support for men who live with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

IBD is a long-term digestive condition that is often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30 years. One in 123 people in the UK have the condition, which causes painful ulcers in the bowels that can lead to symptoms such as bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, incontinence, and fatigue.  IBD can negatively affect sexual health and impact on patients' relationships and quality of life but there is little information or support currently available for men, especially those who identify as bisexual or gay.

In this new study, the research team will work with patients, their partners, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to develop a nursing intervention that addresses this, through the provision of information, assessment, and support.

Lydia Harris, Head of Research and Development, at York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said:

“We are thrilled for Sara, who has become the first nurse in the Trust to successfully secure an NIHR award.  Sara now lectures at York St John University but will still be delivering this important study to our patients, alongside other clinical colleagues in our Trust.  Winning this award is a real credit to Sara’s hard work and great collaborations she has built with our academic partners.  Sara’s success will be an inspiration to our workforce who are encouraged to not just participate in research projects and trials hosted by the Trust, but to also explore areas of their own clinical practice.”

Specialist nurses have a key responsibility in the co-ordination and care of people living with chronic conditions. They perform advanced assessments, prescribe treatments, and most importantly support the overall health and wellbeing of people living with a disease. As they spend a significant amount of time with people and their families, they often develop a good understanding of how people are affected by the disease and can identify what research is needed to bring the most benefit. 

Sara, a specialist nurse with several years’ experience of working with patients with IBD, is leading the work alongside Paul Galdas, a Professor of Nursing and Men's Health at the University of York. They designed the project collaboratively with patient representatives to ensure that it is relevant and acceptable to men with the condition.

Sara explained: “Sexual health is an important part of adult wellbeing that is often pushed to the bottom of the list when treating complex disease. When I started research in this field, many people were sceptical and did not see sexual health as a priority. In an earlier study, I interviewed men with the disease and discovered that not only was there a significant impact on men’s sexual health, but also men were enduring their problems in silence.

“My hope is that healthcare professionals can create safe spaces for people living with this condition to discuss any aspect of living with the disease and for us to respond to this with practical and emotional support. This grant is a significant step towards making this a reality.”

Professor Galdas, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of men’s health, added: “We know that many men who live with a long-term condition have specific needs and preferences when it comes to the delivery of healthcare and support services. Our study will provide nurses with an improved understanding of the sexual health needs of men with IBD that has great potential for improving the quality of life of men and their partners.”

Chrohn's & Colitis UK is the national charity that supports peope living with IBD.  They supported the grant application and helped to create a patient engagement group that advised on the funding application. The MenSH study will be a national study and involve three surveys followed by interviews, focus groups and co-production workshops. The project is due to start in October 2024 pending regulatory approvals.

If you are interested in participating or want to know more, please email: mensh.study@yorksj.ac.uk

Pictured L-R: Catherine Laven, Senior Research Nurse from York and Scarborough Teaching 

Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Sara Ma, now a lecturer at York St John University and Paul Galdas, 

Professor of Nursing and Men’s Health at the University of York. 


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