Viagra rules limit sex to once a week on NHS

THE NHS will pay for sex once a week - but only for a narrowly defined group of men with serious disabilities, Frank Dobson, the 58-year- old Health Secretary, announced.

The vast majority of the estimated two million impotent men in Britain will have to pay privately for Viagra, which is expected to cost pounds 6 a pill from chemists, under prescribing guidelines issued yesterday. Even those who qualify for it on the NHS will be rationed to a maximum of one pill a week.

The decision, which also affects all other impotence treatments that have been freely available without limit on the NHS up to now, outraged doctors, who condemned it as "cruel and unethical". For the first time it has brought the rationing of NHS treatment, which ministers have consistently denied takes place, under the spotlight.

The British Medical Association told GPs to defy the Government and prescribe Viagra to patients in clinical need until the guidelines take effect in six weeks - raising the prospect that thousands of men will get the pills, only to have them withdrawn later. The BMA said it was unacceptable to discriminate among patients, because the same condition had different causes.

Mr Dobson acknowledged the decision had been made on financial grounds, becoming the first health minister openly to admit rationing a drug on the NHS, but said priority had to be given to treatment of cancer and mental illness.

Mr Dobson challenged the BMA to come up with other ways of prescribing Viagra to all without the high costs.

Why doctors are angry, page 2

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