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Friday, 28 April, 2000, 00:24 GMT 01:24 UK
Viagra is 'worth the money'
Viagra pills
Viagra was restricted on NHS due to cost fears
The anti-impotence drug Viagra is cost effective and restrictions on its NHS availability should be lifted, a report says.

While the drug is more expensive than other treatments, researchers say the quality of life gained is seen as worth the cost, both in the eyes of sufferers and the general public.

The availability of Viagra and other impotence treatments should be opened up. We have the technology - I believe we should be able to use it

Dr Simon Fradd, British Medical Association
Viagra is limited on the NHS because of a fears it would cost 1bn-a-year if it was available across the board.

Doctors say the strict criteria imposed by the government mean 75% of the 2.5m impotent men in the UK are not eligible for Viagra on prescription.

Researchers at the Institute for Medical Technology Assessment in Rotterdam compared the cost of Viagra over a five year period with an injection treatment for impotence.

And they asked members of the public how many years of their lives they would be willing to "trade off" to be cured of the problem.

Using this information, evidence on the effectiveness of the drug and its expense, they calculated the cost per "quality adjusted life year".

Viagra, the brand name for the drug sildenafil, was said to cost 3,639 for the first year of life gained and became less expensive after that.

Accepted costs

This puts it within accepted costs. Breast screening costs 7,000 per year gained and kidney transplants nearly 5,000.

Viagra pack
About 7m men have taken the drug
But the researchers warned in the British Medical Journal that their finding was based on a once-weekly dose of the drug - doubling it would drive the cost up.

Report author Dr Elly Stolk said: "Firstly, we have shown that erectile dysfunction limits quality of life considerably, in the eyes of the general public.

"Furthermore, our study shows that sildenafil is cost-effective and its reimbursement should therefore be considered."

More than 7m men in 90 countries have taken the drug and sales have passed the 375m mark. The government is due to review its availability in the UK in July.

A spokesman for manufacturers Pfizer said: "We have always maintained that Viagra is an effective and cost-effective treatment for erectile dysfunction.

"We have always said treatments should be made available on the NHS to patients who suffer from this serious and distressing medical condition, according to their clinical need.

"We will be pushing for the criteria to be eased and for more people to be given access to the treatment."

But Nick Freemantle, of the Medicine Evaluation Group at the University of York, said the "quality adjusted life year" calculation to assess cost effectiveness was flawed.

Dr Simon Fradd, vice-chairman of the British Medical Association's committee for GPs, said restrictions on prescribing Viagra should be lifted immediately.

"There are many ways of making this calculation, but as a GP I know the suffering erectile dysfunction brings and it seems to me this is an appropriate way of treating it.

"The availability of Viagra and other impotence treatments should be opened up. We have the technology - I believe we should be able to use it."

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See also:

25 Feb 00 | Health
Viagra blackmarket thriving
02 Jun 98 | Medical notes
How Viagra works
12 Mar 99 | Medical notes
Viagra: The pill for impotence
11 Apr 00 | Health
Viagra rival gets US approval
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