Viagra to be made available to all on the Health Service

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The Independent Online
VIAGRA, THE new drug treatment for male impotence, will be made available on the NHS once it is granted a UK licence, ministers have confirmed.

However, it was unclear yesterday whether restrictions will be imposed to limit prescriptions of the drug. In the US, 1.7 million prescriptions were written for Viagra in the two months following its launch last March. The drug costs pounds 120 for a box of 30 pills.

Senior managers warn that if a free-for-all is allowed, with GPs given carte blanche to prescribe what some describe as a recreational drug, the NHS will be bankrupted. About 2.9 million men are estimated to suffer from impotence, one in ten of the adult male population. Impotence rises sharply with age to 39 per cent in men over 40 and 67 per cent in men over 70.

Tessa Jowell, Minister of State for Health, said if the drug was licensed, which is expected in September, it would be made available "to meet identified clinical need". One option open to the Government would be to restrict its prescription to hospital specialists to ensure that patients are properly examined and advised about the risk of side effects. Viagra has been linked with two dozen deaths and must not be used by patients taking nitrite drugs for heart conditions. Other expensive drugs such as beta-interferon for multiple sclerosis are restricted to consultant-only prescribing.

Professor John Henry, editor of the British Medical Association's Guide to Medicines and Drugs, said: "GPs are often pressured by patients for drugs and they may give in and prescribe. To close that loophole it may be necessary to restrict Viagra to specialists who have the expertise to judge each case."

Ann Craig, director of the Impotence Association, said: "What the Government is worried about is that if people who don't need it get hold of it, it will cost the NHS a lot."

n Viagra has made a contribution to Ireland's continuing economic boom, financial analysts said today. Record sales of the drug in the United States have ensured that Ireland's exports are continuing to soar.

A key ingredient of Viagra is produced by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, the drug's manufacturers, at their Irish base in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork.

Figures from Ireland's Central Statistics Office show that exports in the first three months of this year were 29 per cent higher than the same period in 1997, putting the country on course for a potential 12.5 per cent economic growth.

And the returns highlighted a 61 per cent rise in the export of organic chemicals - under which the Viagra ingredient is classified - in the early part of 1998, compared with the same months of the previous year.

Leading article, Review, page 3

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