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Viagra Friday, 12 March, 1999, 16:58 GMT
Viagra patients could sue, says doctor
The Viagra debate could lead to legal battles
Patients who have been denied Viagra on the NHS may be able to get a refund for the cost of a private prescription and consultation, says a Hertfordshire GP.

Dr Peter Simmons, from Abbots Langley, says he believes GPs who have prescribed the anti-impotence drug privately may be in breach of their terms of service.

He says patients who have been referred for private treatment may be able to get a refund. The cost of a private consultation could be as much as 80, he says.

Docking pay

Dr Simmons was told by West Hertfordshire Health Authority last month that his pay could be docked by 40 after he prescribed Viagra on the NHS.

He has been informed by the British Medical Association (BMA), the Medical Protection Society and Pfizer, the drug's manufacturer, that the health authority has misinterpreted GP regulations.

A BMA spokeswoman said: "We believe there is no basis for the health authority's claim."

However, the health authority says it is obeying government guidance issued after Viagra was made available in the UK in September.

The guidance stated that GPs could only prescribe the drug in "exceptional circumstances".

The health authority wants Dr Simmons to explain whether the patient he prescribed the drug for was "exceptional".

But it is anxious to avoid a legal wrangle over the case.

"We do not want to invest public money in a legal wrangle.

"We need a wide discussion of how finite NHS resources can be fairly used for patients," said a spokeswoman for the health authority.

Defiance

The BMA has advised doctors to prescribe Viagra on the NHS in defiance of government guidelines issued last week which limit the number of patients who can receive it.

The guidelines are out for consultation for the next six weeks.

If the government legislates over its guidelines, it will have to change the law to allow doctors to prescribe Viagra on a private basis for patients who are not eligible for it on the NHS.

In the meantime, doctors believe it may be illegal for them to withhold a treatment from some patients while prescribing it for others.

The Impotence Association believes West Herts Health Authority has acted legally and says the problem is between the government and doctors.

It says doctors who prescribe Viagra in violation of the government's guidelines - which are described as "binding" - could be sued by the government.

Alternatively, it says it may be the government which is at fault because patients may have a right to treatment which is available on the NHS.

"It is a mess," said a spokeswoman. "Doctors are feeling very torn."

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