Treatment for erectile dysfunction is available to some men on an NHS prescription. This means that men with certain conditions will be able to get Sildenafil or a branded medication for ‘free’. For other men, it might mean getting a treatment prescribed free of charge, but paying the NHS levy rate for it at a pharmacy.

For other men though, getting ED treatment from your NHS GP may mean them having to issue a prescription privately and charge a non-NHS prescribing fee; and then paying the market rate for medication at a pharmacy. Some men may decide that they prefer not to discuss the issue with their family GP, and get treatment for ED privately through other means (such as from an online pharmacy).

On this page we’ll look in more detail at who is entitled to ED treatment on the NHS and who isn’t. 

Can you get ED treatment on the NHS? 

Yes, NHS GPs can prescribe treatment for erectile dysfunction. But guidance has changed over the years.

“In 1999, the Department of Health undertook formal measures to restrict NHS prescription of erectile dysfunction treatments in NHS primary care.”

So what did these restrictions say? Only people suffering with the following health conditions were able to acquire a prescription for any given ED treatment: 

  • Diabetes
  • Huntington’s disease (or other hereditary conditions) 
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Polio 
  • Prostate cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Injury of the spinal cord
  • Spina bifida 

Or people who have had before:

  • Major pelvic surgery 
  • Removal of the prostate 
  • Certain procedures relating to the kidneys or liver 

However, in 2014 the Department of Health ran an 8-week long consultation process with 87 doctors, pharmacists, other medical professionals within the NHS and members of the public. They also received individual responses from the following institutions: 

  • British Medical Association  
  • Royal College of General Practitioners  
  • British Generics Manufacturers Association  
  • Lilly UK  
  • Pfizer  
  • Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee  
  • Prostate Cancer UK  
  • Clinical Commissioning Groups

The consultation asked four questions, requiring a ‘Yes/No’ response. The results were as follows:

 

DO YOU AGREE WITH OUR PROPOSALS TO MAKE SILDENAFIL AVAILABLE ON NHS PRESCRIPTION? 

DO YOU AGREE WITH OUR ASSESSMENT OF COSTS TO THE NHS? 

DO YOU AGREE WITH OUR ASSESSMENT ON THE BENEFITS IN WIDENING ACCESS ON THE NHS TO GENERIC SILDENAFIL?

DO YOU BELIEVE IT WILL BE HELPFUL TO ISSUE PRESCRIBING GUIDANCE TO ACCOMPANY REGULATION CHANGE?

YES

81%

64%

77%

77%

NO

18%

27%

16%

16%

IN PART

0%

1%

0%

0%

NIL RESPONSE

1%

8%

7%

7%

The responses were overwhelmingly in support of the Department of Health’s proposals to make ED treatment more accessible. Following the consultation process, their proposals surrounding generic Sildenafil were enacted and the prescribing restrictions on this drug were lifted. 

Health policy surrounding ED treatment has remained fairly consistent up to the present day. Generic Sildenafil is by far the most widely prescribed NHS treatment. Branded versions are usually only prescribed on the basis that the patient has a pre-existing medical condition. 

NHS doctors can prescribe branded treatment privately, but there’s usually a private prescribing fee involved. 

What happens when you talk to an NHS GP about erectile dysfunction?

As with most conditions, treatment for ED starts with a consultation.

Your NHS GP will ask you some questions about your symptoms, lifestyle and relationships. They’re likely to check your blood pressure. In most instances relating to erectile dysfunction, a physical check is not necessary. If they suspect a more serious, underlying health condition then they might carry out a physical examination, or refer you to a specialist. 

There are a number of psychological and physical factors that can lead to erectile dysfunction, which means there are also a number of treatment options (not all of which will come in the form of medicine). 

For instance, if your GP concludes that you are not eating well enough and exercising regularly (which can be two causes of erectile dysfunction) then they may recommend making certain lifestyle changes. It’s possible they’ll want to see you again after a given period of time to determine whether your symptoms have improved. 

You won’t be eligible for certain ED treatments (such as Viagra, Spedra, Cialis or Levitra) if you don’t meet particular criteria. For the most part, these types of branded treatments will only be prescribed if you suffer from other conditions such as diabetes, parkinson’s disease or prostate cancer. 

What if an NHS GP doesn’t recommend treatment? 

There must be some willingness from men with erectile dysfunction to implement lifestyle changes if these have been recommended. Stopping smoking, cutting down alcohol intake, eating better and exercising regularly can be of benefit for this condition, sometimes to a significant extent. 

Some doctors might recommend lifestyle changes prior to prescribing treatment. Whether you try these or not, “Your GP does not have to prescribe a particular medication or treatment for you if they think it's not the right option. You're entitled to ask for their reasons for the decision.”

So where does this leave you? Well, “If you're not satisfied with your GP's advice, you may want to consider getting a second opinion. Although you're not legally entitled to a second opinion, a healthcare professional will rarely refuse to refer you. You may feel happier with a different GP, but be aware they may give you the same advice.”

If, after a second opinion, you still haven’t been prescribed treatment for erectile dysfunction, then it’s certainly more than likely that treatment won’t benefit you (or that the risks outweigh the benefits).

You can try and obtain treatment for erectile dysfunction from a legally-operating online pharmaceutical provider. Though online pharmacies which operate safely will apply the same consideration to your treatment as an NHS GP. 

Alternatively, you could try and obtain Viagra Connect (which does not require a prescription). It can be purchased online and from certain NHS pharmacies. A pharmacist will have to ask you some questions about your overall health to examine whether Viagra Connect is a suitable treatment option for you. 

The majority of in-person NHS pharmacies now have private consultation rooms which can be more discreet.

Page last reviewed:  28/07/2020