RCGP sounds caution over buying Viagra online

Publication date: 11 August 2017

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, has responded to NHS Digital figures showing a marked increase in prescriptions for sildenafil over the last decade.

She said: "Awareness of sildenafil – which is widely known as Viagra – and its medical usage for treating erectile dysfunction has certainly increased over the last decade. It has also come 'off licence', making it cheaper. Both factors may account for some of the increase in prescriptions over the last few years.

"But this increase in prescribing could also indicate significantly reduced stigma of discussing erectile dysfunction, and so more men who suffer from the condition are feeling comfortable enough to visit their GP or another healthcare professional for medical assistance. Erectile dysfunction, as well as being a physical condition, can also have a very real effect on our patients' mental health – so this is a good thing.

"It's interesting to note that the increase in prescriptions has slowed down over the last year – which could indicate that Viagra or its alternatives are becoming more widely and readily available off-prescription, including online. 

"Buying medication online might seem convenient – and it might be attractive to patients who are embarrassed to discuss medical problems with their doctor in person – but it isn't without risk, particularly if people are using websites that haven't been verified by the General Medical Council and Care Quality Commission. 

"Firstly, there is no way for someone to know what they are buying is what they think it is, and this in itself can have profound consequences. But, even if the sildenafil is genuine, it is a powerful drug, which if taken inappropriately can have serious side-effects. There are a number of medical reasons why the drug would not be prescribed – for example, if a patient has a heart or liver problem, or if they have low blood pressure.

"GPs follow strict guidelines when prescribing generic sildenafil – and they will only issue an NHS prescription if there is one of a list of specific medical reasons to do so, but we do also issue private prescriptions if the condition does not meet the criteria for NHS treatment, or for branded sildenafil such as Viagra, if this is the patient's preference. It is also worth noting that erectile dysfunction is not the only medical condition that sildenafil can be used to treat. 

"GPs and other prescribers in the community are highly trained to take into account physical, psychological and social factors when treating a patient, and will only prescribe drugs if it suits the unique health needs of the person sitting in front of them. They will also be able to ensure that the drugs work safely in combination with other medications that the patient may be using. Unverified websites won’t be as discerning."

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7633/7410
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659
press@rcgp.org.uk

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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