Today, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced that it was reclassifying Viagra Connect - an erectile dysfunction treatment from Pfizer that contains a 50mg dose of sildenafil - from prescription-only medicine (POM) to pharmacy-line medicine (P) in the UK.

This means as of Spring 2018, UK pharmacists will be able to issue the drug to patients without the need for a prescription from a doctor.

The treatment won’t be available to everyone; patients with a history of severe cardiovascular disease, at high risk from liver or kidney failure, or taking other medications that may cause interactions when taken with Viagra, will still be prohibited from buying and using the medicine.

Even though a prescription will not be required for men who buy Viagra Connect, they will still need to answer medical questions from their pharmacist before it can be issued.

At present, there are only plans for the 50mg dose of sildenafil to become a pharmacy line treatment. The higher dose (100mg) may still require a prescription when the new rules come into action.

What is Viagra Connect?

Viagra Connect is the name of the new version of sildenafil 50mg being released by Pfizer. It will be issued in pack sizes of up to eight tablets.

Erectile dysfunction is typically caused by a lack of blood flow to the penis. The medication, a PDE5 inhibitor, works by helping to dilate blood vessels in and around penile tissues. PDE5 inhibitors help to reduce blood pressure in these tissues, permitting a better flow to the penis, and helping the user to get and sustain an erection.

For most men, 50mg is the recommended start dose of Viagra. However, doctors will generally try to issue the lowest possible dose which is known to be effective. A lower dose of 25mg is also available.

Viagra Connect will be the only erectile dysfunction treatment of its kind available ‘over-the-counter’.

At present, Viagra is available to some men on the NHS, but only in specific circumstances (for instance in men with certain medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease or spina bifida).

Why has the MHRA made the change?

They hope that the change will enable men who are hesitant to seek help from their doctor to get better access to treatment within the healthcare system; and also to reduce the likelihood of men turning to illicit suppliers of fake versions from unregulated websites.

As we’ve written previously, counterfeit drugs are a prominent, global problem when it comes to erectile dysfunction. Many sites may sell products which are not genuine, and therefore haven’t been clinically tested.

(If you are buying Viagra online, you should always make sure the pharmacy site you’re using is registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council. For more, read our guidelines on buying ED medicine online safely.)

The decision was made by the MHRA through public consultation. The BBC reports that of the 47 responses they received: 33 were for; 13 were against; and one was undecided.

Has this been trialled before?

In a fashion, yes.

In 2009, a selection of pharmacies trialled selling Viagra over the counter. The scheme was only rolled out on a small scale before being discontinued, and Viagra went back to being available on prescription only.

At the time, patients had to undergo a short consultation with a pharmacist, just as they will next year when Viagra Connect becomes available as a pharmacy line medicine.

What does this mean for patients taking Viagra?

For those taking the 50mg dose at least, a prescription from a doctor will no longer be required for pack sizes up to 8.

At this stage, it is not yet clear whether the change will also apply to the lower dose (25mg). It seems likely that a prescription will still be required for patients using the higher dose (100mg).

We’ll bring you more updates as they become available.

In the meantime, if you are experiencing erectile dysfunction, we would still advise that you speak to a doctor before using treatment. In some cases, the condition can be a sign of an underlying illness; and a doctor will be able to help you rule these out, before assisting you in getting treatment where required.