Go-ahead for Viagra on NHS

DOCTORS ARE to be given the go-ahead tomorrow to prescribe Viagra on the NHS for the first time since it was licensed eight months ago.

Ministers are due to announce which categories of patient can receive the anti- impotence treatment, which costs pounds 4.83 a pill, lifting the official blanket restriction on its prescription. Early estimates at its launch last September put the total potential cost of the drug at up to pounds 100m a year, raising fears that it could break NHS drug budgets. The announcement is designed to head off a legal challenge by Pfizer, manufacturer of the drug, which is contesting the Government's right to impose the restriction on prescribing. Pfizer is seeking a judicial review of the decision, which it described as "unprecedented and discriminatory," and the case is due to be heard on Monday.

When it was licensed last September, fears of a stampede for the pills led Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, to issue a warning letter to doctors advising them not to prescribe it on the NHS until guidelines had been issued. That advice still stands but doctors are free to prescribe it privately.

Draft health guidelines were published in January. They proposed restricting the NHS prescription of all treatments for impotence, restricting the availability of older treatments such as injections for the first time, to men with a narrowly defined range of medical conditions.

The Department of Health said yesterday it had received 860 responses to its request for comments on the draft guidelines. A spokeswoman said: "It has been quite phenomenal. We have been absolutely deluged with comments, suggestions and complaints. They have all been taken on board."

Despite the lobbying, Mr Dobson is understood to have refused to relax the overall pounds 12m ceiling on spending. The revised guidelines will be framed to hold costs within this limit.

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