My Week Seven Days In The Life Of Ann Craig, Director Of The Impotence Association
Jeremy Laurance is a writer on health issues. He is former health editor of The Independent and the i and has covered the specialism for more than 20 years. He thinks the harm medicine does is under-appreciated, the harm it prevents over-rated, and that cycling works better than most drugs. He was named Specialist Journalist of the Year in the 2011 British Press Awards.
Saturday 19 September 1998
Got up late, picked my boyfriend up from the airport and waited for the phone to ring. I came into this job as a counsellor but since May, after Viagra was licensed in the US, I have spent from morning to night and most weekends talking to the press. To be honest, I will be glad when the hype over Viagra dies down and I can get on with the job of running the organisation.
I am 37 and no, I don't have a family. I don't have time for sex, never mind children. I spent five years working with terminally ill Aids patients. When I went into it, Aids was a totally taboo subject and people said "What do you want to do that for?" When I got this job, I got the same reaction. It's helping people who need help but can't talk about it. That's what I like. Men find it easier to talk to a woman about impotence. There is this competitive element that makes it difficult for them to talk to another man. That's why so many have suffered in silence. They are only just beginning to talk openly about it now.
We knew Viagra was due to be licensed on Tuesday, so we were expecting a quiet day - the lull before the storm. All the staff had lunch at a restaurant near the office in Tooting, south-west London, thinking it would be the last chance for some time. I came back from lunch and the statement from Frank Dobson, that Viagra would be banned on the NHS until guidance to doctors is issued, was on my desk, together with a million requests from the press for comment. I was horrified by his remarks on the radio about Viagra being a recreational drug. It is not recreational and it is not an aphrodisiac.
It is ridiculous to argue, as Dobson did, that spending on Viagra might take away from spending on cancer or heart treatments. Are they going to ban all drugs except those for life-threatening conditions? What about drugs for hay fever? Why should someone with diabetes spend their life unable to have sex when there is a treatment to help them?
We get about 200 calls a day to our helpline, 20 per cent of them from women. Some are very distressing - I have had men crying down the phone, suicidal. The women call desperate, not knowing what to do, with their marriage breaking up. The publicity about Viagra has helped. People are talking about the problem, asking their doctors, when they wouldn't have before.
I did my first interview from home, in Ealing, at 7am and continued giving interviews throughout the day. Viagra got its European licence as expected in the morning and Pfizer, the manufacturers, held a press conference in the afternoon.
The message I tried to put across was that Viagra is effective but no more than other treatments for impotence. If men can't afford to pay for it privately they should consider other treatments that they can get on the NHS.
By Tuesday night, I was totally exhausted. I went round to my boyfriend's place for some sympathy. I was really fed up - the build up had gone on so long and I thought this [the day Viagra was licensed] would be the end of it. But it isn't because now we're waiting for the guidelines from the Government and the whole thing will begin again.
We had a bit of a lull today. I did a bit of shopping and then I had a meeting with a vacuum-pump manufacturer in the afternoon. They had a new constriction ring they wanted to show me. We have to know about all the devices and treatments on the market so that we can give advice. It is a small world and everybody knows everybody.
Then, at 11.30pm, I got a call at home from a London radio station wanting to know what I thought of the plan by the Richard and Judy show on ITV to experiment with Viagra on three couples who had never used it before.
I was appalled. We always try to help the press by finding couples prepared to talk about impotence, but we check first what they are planning. The Richard and Judy show didn't tell us what they wanted to do and if they had, we would not have put people forward.
Richard and Judy sent three couples off with Viagra to a London hotel and brought them back later to see what had happened. One said it worked well, one said it was OK, and for one it didn't work at all - a success rate of one-and-a-half out of three.
I thought the programme was tacky. It trivialised the whole thing. It is a morning programme - what do they think they are playing at sending people off to a hotel to have sex while viewers are having their breakfast? We have worked so hard on this and it has knocked us back.
I had to deal with the fall-out from an article in the Lancet about a 65-year-old man who had a heart attack after taking Viagra. I didn't want to get involved - I don't know the details and it is really one for the manufacturers to handle.
Tonight I'm going out with the girls for the first time in months. I'm really looking forward to it. Need you ask why?
Impotence Association helpline: 0181-767 7791
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