A prescription is a written instruction to both patient and pharmacy which authorises the issue of a particular drug. Only qualified medical practitioners can write a prescription. 

For many years, people who needed ED treatment and seeking different ways to get Viagra would always need a prescription. But in 2018 the rules changed slightly, and one dose of this drug (Viagra Connect) became available as a p-line or ‘pharmacy’ medicine, no longer requiring a prescription. 

Prescriptions are important because they safeguard access to medicine. Wherever you try to attain a prescription, whether that be through a public or private healthcare service, the idea is that you will only ever receive one if it is medically suitable for you. 

Some medications can be given without a prescription. Some, you can purchase without the presence of any kind of consultation process - like paracetamol from a supermarket, for example. 

Other non-prescription treatments, such as pharmacy medicines, can’t be bought off the shelf. You will still need to have a consultation with a pharmacist to acquire pharmacy treatments, such as Viagra Connect. 

Why are most ED treatments prescription only? 

The reason the majority of impotence treatments as we know them attract a prescription classification partially surrounds how they work and what they do. 

When people talk about ED treatments - namely Viagra, Sildenafil, Levitra and Vardenafil - they are usually referring to phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5 inhibitors). Erections occur in the body when blood vessels in the penis broaden in response to signals sent from the brain, following sexual arousal. This allows for increased blood flow into this area, causing the penis to become firm. 

However, some men have a physical problem that means their blood vessels don’t dilate, despite being aroused. This makes getting and maintaining an erection difficult. A certain type of enzyme, known as PDE5 causes the vessels to become tight and restricted. 

Conventional ED treatments, like Viagra, contain PDE5 inhibitors. They block the action of this vessel-restricting hormone. In doing so, blood flow to the penis is less obstructed. 

These treatments must not be allocated to people suffering with certain health conditions, and can cause side effects (some mild, some severe). It is the job of a doctor or a prescriber to ensure ED treatment is issued safely, and that there aren’t any underlying medical conditions that might be responsible (and need attention). It’s also the prescriber’s job to make sure treatment, if required, is safe for the user.

These treatments contain active ingredients that are not safe for everyone to use. ED treatment is dangerous for people with heart conditions or taking nitrates for angina, for example. Part of a prescriber’s job is to screen a patient and rule out the risk of interactions with other drugs, or contraindications. 

Are all ED treatments prescription only? 

No. Viagra Connect became available as a pharmacy treatment in 2018. This means it can be acquired without a prescription. But before you can get Viagra Connect, you’ll still need to have a consultation with a pharmacist. So although you can get Viagra Connect without a doctor consultation, you’ll still go through checks to make sure it’s safe.

More recently, some manufacturers of generic Sildenafil have applied for reclassification of the 50mg dose as a pharmacy medicine, to bring them in line with Viagra Connect. 

Getting Viagra on an NHS prescription 

Help with erectile dysfunction is available on the NHS for some. 

Typically, your NHS GP will ask you some questions about your overall health and relating to the condition or problem you’ve raised. If they think symptoms could be linked with a more serious health condition, a physical examination might be necessary.

What they suggest can depend on several factors. If you have mild or occasional symptoms and your GP thinks they might be linked with a lifestyle factor, like exercise or your diet, then they might first recommend you go away and address these. If you smoke or drink a lot of alcohol, they might discuss cutting down or quitting smoking with you.

If these approaches don’t work, or if you’re experiencing more pronounced or persistent symptoms, they’ll discuss treatment and what might be suitable for you. 

Some men with certain medical conditions are entitled to free erectile dysfunction treatment on an NHS prescription. Others may have to pay the prescription levy, or pay a private prescribing fee to their doctor.

Getting Viagra on a private prescription 

There are several reasons why men choose to forego seeing their regular NHS GP about erectile dysfunction and go direct to private. Some men feel strongly about sharing more intimate problems with their family GP. Others, anticipating that they won’t be entitled to treatment on an NHS prescription and have to pay private fees, might find it cheaper to get help privately, such as from an online pharmacy.

In any case, we recommend telling your regular GP about treatment you obtain for ED, be it privately online, or with a separate private doctor in person.

You can arrange to see a GP privately about erectile dysfunction, and they will offer a prescription for you where appropriate. Prices vary, but they may charge you an appointment fee for this, and a prescribing fee. And you’ll then be able to take the prescription you are issued to a chemist to be dispensed. You’ll then pay the market rate for the medication (not the NHS levy).

Some supermarket and high street pharmacies also offer appointments and treatment for ED. You’ll consult with a healthcare professional in person usually, and may need to pay a prescribing or appointment fee, in addition to paying for the medication itself. 

Online pharmacies are another route. Many now offer a means of consulting with a prescriber remotely, who can assess your suitability and issue treatment where appropriate. In many cases, online providers combine the price of the consultation, prescription and medication into one fee (at Treated.com this also includes delivery of treatment).

When you use online services, it’s important to be safe when buying Viagra online.

While you don’t always need a prescription to get some versions of Viagra, it’s not strictly possible to get ED treatment over the counter. As it stands, you’ll always need to consult with someone and answer some questions about your health beforehand.

Page last reviewed:  25/09/2020